I simply cannot understand #alllivesmatter. I know that people who post it think they are clever, responding to a hashtag with a hashtag. They appear to congratulate themselves for their belief in absolute equality. But let’s be honest, #alllivesmatter popped up as an attempt to denigrate the #blacklivesmatter movement. It is not that I disagree with the words themselves. Of course, all lives matter. Every single person is created in the image of God and preservation of life is the single most important value in Judaism, and in all religions for that matter. Let us just consider it a given, that life matters. On that we all agree. Still we are confronted repeatedly by acts of violence against black people in which police officers have used excessive, often lethal, force. Time and again, the American public has been asked to accept that these people were killed because they threatened the lives of police officers. While it may have been true in some of the cases which received national attention, it certainly was not the case for all of them, and we have yet to see true accountability or justice for the lives that have been taken. We have been forced to view these cases through the smokescreens of the victims’ criminal records (if they had them), or current misdemeanor activity, or the way they dress, or their level of education, or their use of recreational drugs. All of these are distractions, efforts to make us believe there was cause for the police to be extra cautious and more ready to pull the trigger. But none of that matters. What matters was whether or not a weapon was drawn and whether there was clear, imminent danger to the officer. Otherwise, someone suspected of a crime, or even guilty of one, deserves their citation for a broken tail light, their day in court for illegally selling CDs, or their chance to prove their innocence if wrongfully accused. They do not deserve to die based on suspicion or even based on past behavior. And more to the point, the thing that elevated the suspicion for all these victims was the thing that they share in common. They were black. While I am not a lawyer, I believe it to be a reasonable assumption that being black is not probable cause for suspicion or a justifiable reason for a police officer to treat a citizen any differently than they would another person. Time after time, however, we are watching black men being shot without justification. Then we are all supposed to believe it was an unfortunate misunderstanding that escalated to a situation which necessitated the use of lethal force. The shooters in these cases are rarely brought to justice, and the families, friends, and all of us as witnesses are asked simply to move along. The victims have been treated as though their lives are expendable, but we all agree, no life is expendable. All life matters, and since the victims in these killings time and again are black, the phrase was born “Black lives matter!”
This is not, as Rudy Giuliani called it, “inherently racist.” It is not a proclamation of an ideal that black is better, nor is it a call to violence. The gunman in Dallas acted on his own, and violence against the police is not the direct or logical conclusion of a “Black Lives Matter” protest. Black Lives Matter is about ending violence. The shooting in Dallas was a horrific, pre-meditated murder of five brave officers. The Dallas police, performing their sworn duty, were there to protect the rights of the protestors to express their frustrations in a non-violent way. The biggest fallacy is that to support “Black Lives Matter” is to be anti-police. All police officers are blessings. They are heroes, but even heroes must be held accountable when they show poor judgment, especially since the stakes are so high. This is what “Black Lives Matter” is really about- accountability. It is an appeal to common sense. As has been the motive and the right of the black community since long before the Civil Rights movement, they wish to be recognized and treated as equals before the law. They are asking that their lives be awarded the same value and respect as everyone. They want what we all want, justice. So when someone says or hashtags “Black lives matter,” they are not singling out themselves. They are rather demanding equal regard. They are asking not to be profiled, and not to be treated with heightened caution, or dismissed as expendable because of their skin color.
As a white man, I am already aware my life matters. I do not see people like me being subjected to extra scrutiny or as the victims of excessive force. I therefore do not need a slogan or to appeal to anyone that white lives matter. It is not an issue. I also do not need to see videos of police who perform routine traffic stops without shooting anyone. That is the baseline expectation. I do however feel the need to say “black lives matter” because their lives matter as much as mine. Right now, the black community is in need of being elevated, not to rise above anyone, rather to reach the same plane where all lives can co-exist and all matter the same. Until then, we must be witnesses, duty bound to speak up. The Talmud (Shabbat 54b) teaches, “Whoever has the capacity to protest to prevent a crime but does not is accountable.” The reason for this resonates in the immortal words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I therefore feel compelled to say, as a white man and leader in the Jewish community, in chorus with anyone who will join me and who truly believes in social justice, “Black lives matter!”