Sankofa Talk — An ‘All Lives Matter moment’
- Published: December 28, 2020
I recently participated in a forum sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Wilmington College entitled “Red, Black and Blue.” It was billed as “A community discussion that addresses all perspectives regarding the Red Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and Black Lives Matter movements.” I was unfamiliar with the Red Lives Matter (something I’m still unsure about) but I learned that it is representative of firefighters. The activity was organized by the campus group Diversity in Action, or DNA.
A Black firefighter from the Cincinnati Fire Department was there to represent Red Lives Matter; the white Wilmington Police Chief was there to represent Blues Lives Matter; and I was asked to speak from the perspective of the Black Lives Matter movement. I view the Blue Lives Matter movement as an arrogant, backlash response to the BLM movement that emerged after self-appointed neighborhood watchman and vigilante, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. I was apprehensive, to say the least, due mainly to the Blue Lives Matter aspect and my sensitivities about the rampant police brutality in the taking of innocent Black lives across the nation. And after all, there are no blue people. Despite this, I exhaled my apprehension and committed myself to participate with an open mind.
It turned out the police chief was not an actual proponent for Blues Lives Matter — or so he thought. One of the 40 or so students present asked him what he thought about the Blues Lives Matter movement. He stood up, raised the microphone to his face and began his statement with “All Lives Matter.” I suppressed a groan and felt it roll around in my chest. He continued to explain that the color of a person’s skin does not come into play in dispensing his lawful duties, saying “… when I go on a call, I don’t know the color of a person’s skin; it doesn’t matter.” He also invoked his religion — “Jesus died for all of us; we all matter.” He later added, “… my wife is Filipino,” code language for “I can’t be racist, so don’t try that one.”
He went on to identify more personal reasons to justify his “All Lives Matter” stance. I could not even look his way for more than a second or two. I became aware that despite my attempts to maintain my composure, my face was contorting into a series of disdainful smirks. I thought about whether I was even going to speak when he finished. How could anyone utter “all lives matter” in such a setting following the rolling wave of demonstrations and protests against the brutal killings of unarmed Black people, many of the killings caught on video? Did he not understand the frustrations of the family and friends of the victims whose murderers are almost never brought to justice?
He stopped talking and sat down. I tried to quiet my emotions the same way I have been trying since a Greene County grand jury decided that Beavercreek officer Sean Williams was justified in murdering John Crawford III in 2014, the same way I did when George Zimmerman went free for murdering Trayvon Martin, the same way I did when I witnessed the life being drained from George Floyd under the knee of that Minnesota cop, the way I have so many other times when it has been made plain that society deems the value of Black lives as being even less than the three-fifths of a human the founding fathers deemed so many years ago.
I gathered myself and rose from my seat. I directed impassioned pleas toward the police chief, explaining the realities and devastating impact of systemic racism on America’s Black citizens. I told him that his “all lives matter” position symbolizes and demonstrates a lack of sensitivity and delivers an insult to the Black people who have suffered so much pain at the hands of law enforcement and every other American institution.
He stood up and said, “Here’s my rebuttal.” I shot back, “I don’t need your rebuttal. I need for you to listen.” He talked over me and continued to talk. I wish I could tell you what he said, but I pretty much checked out after that.
The fact that he found it necessary to issue a rebuttal to the idea that the humanity of Black people should be honored as opposed to ongoing victimization from every conceivable angle, was all he needed to say to convince me that continuing that conversation was useless. On top of that, I noticed that my voice was rising, putting me in a potentially dangerous situation. On the drive home it occurred to me that I had made an attempt to plead for the recognition of the humanity of Black people and ended up shutting myself down for fear of putting myself at risk.
How ironic that most of the time “all lives matter” really means “all lives matter — except yours.”