What #BlackLivesMatter Actually Means

12 min readJul 24, 2020


by Ashley Montague, photo taken by Christine Dong (Portland, Oregon)

I’ve seen this argument time and time again, “If Black Lives Mattered why aren’t there protests when a black person kills a black person?” I’m just going to overlook the obvious dogwhistle and focus on the question itself. I’m going to ignore the classic conservative tendency to falsely equate two completely different things to make an erroneous argument, in this case: agents of the state murdering black people vs. criminals murdering black people. Let’s ignore the fact that the obvious counter to this “point” would be why aren’t there protests when a cop kills a white person? Is it okay for police to kill white people? Is it okay for white people to kill other white people? Is it okay for white people to be killed? Is that what you’re insinuating? But let’s focus on the question as it stands.

Every time a Black person is killed in senseless violence, we have community dialogues, we have community wide funeral services, we have ways to grieve and cope. Because of redlining, many non-Black Americans will never see this unless they live in the community or are close with Black people in those communities. But African Americans do care, like anyone else cares when their community isn’t safe. Kids stepping over dead bodies in Chicago isn’t met with shrugs and laughter. It’s met with pain, it’s met with dialogue with the police and community organizers. Contrary to popular belief, Black people want police presence in their neighborhoods. They are the primary targets of black crime, of black murder, unlike the primary targets of the racially charged caricature of the “big evil thug”, that White Conservative voices weave on a daily basis. That being said, the police do not show a presence in Black communities until they’ve either been nagged enough or when they want to stir the pot hence the protests. There have been Community dialogues with the police in communities all over the country, not only to prevent the killings of Black men by police officers, but to also make it easier for the Police to do their jobs. But the cops go and protect the rich and their property and their Targets. The entire city pays the salaries of officers, but those who pay more get more protection, while those who pay less get no protection at all. I felt safer when I started living in wealthier communities, because the police actually had a presence there and they weren’t trying to bother you most of the time. Contrasted with poor black neighborhoods like the one where I spent a good chunk of my childhood, the only time you ever saw the police was when trouble was afoot. And you just learned to keep your distance and look the other way, lest you “fit the description” which is what we mean when we talk about over-policing.

And there are plenty of community initiatives: mentorship programs, gun violence advocacy groups, and after-school organizations. However, they just don’t get the funding they need to be truly effective. There isn’t a Hollywood elite that spends their time raising money for these causes — its far more common to see money raised for the environment or for animals in Tinseltown — which are important causes, but it draws attention to the lack of support these anti-violence and anti-crime groups have. Many black kids don’t have access to mentors and to role models — especially in the big cities — to show them there’s another way to existing beyond petty crimes and avoiding the police. People would be surprised at how effective it is to take a kid who lives in a virtual warzone to the other side of town where people are actually living life, rather than just trying to survive it. But there is no focus on preventative measures until someone dies, and if its Chicago we’re talking about, until a few dozen people die, or maybe a little 9 year old girl. For people who have no way out of the virtual hell created for them by income inequality, compounded by over-policing, compounded by a climate of self-destructive behaviors, further compounded by centuries of systemic racism and harm, the preventative measures are the only way to fix the issue. “More police” is the equivalent of recommending chemo-therapy to treat a bacterial infection. Will it kill the bacteria? Sure. It will also kill everything else including the patient if taken too far, and that’s what movements like #defundthepolice aim to fix.

At its core the issue is economic, and there’s no shortage of people who are constantly advocating for practical solutions to those issues. But we have a culture of sensationalism in this country. “If it bleeds, it leads” as the expression goes. The media focused on the death of George Floyd, not because it was a murder at the hands of the police but because it was a public murder. There was footage, eight-minutes and forty-six seconds of it. And it was symbolic. It wasn’t a random case of a “lack of police training” we’re always told to accept, but a White Police officer’s knee, much like the system of White Supremacy and Privilege on the neck of an innocent Black man much like the beaten and downtrodden black community. And that knee slowly, painfully, drained the life out of that Black man until he cried out for his mother and then died. And the other police officers, the man who called them originally, all but one of them non-white and all of them stood watched the murder, doing absolutely nothing despite the pleas of good Samaritans, which is also symbolic of how other minorities passively aid and condone the system that would allow for this to happen.

So no, its not that Black Lives don’t matter to Black people until White people take them, its that the media doesn’t care. When Black people kill white people, or commit crimes against them, you get a very different reaction from the media than when a white perp does the crime. Because the incentive is not to inform the public, its to make a profit. Media companies have to put food on the table just as the rest of us have to do, and the nature of the American appetite — one that craves scandal, and division, and drama, forces Big Media to highlight only the stories that will make the largest splash and net the largest ratings. They did not focus on the more obscure but arguably more terrifying murder of Breonna Taylor in the way they focused on George Floyd, in which her killers have not been arrested, and she herself was not involved in anyway in some wrong doing. Imagine just having a normal night with your family, following all the rules, and having an agent of the state break into your home after dark and murder you in your sleep. Sounds like North Korea doesn’t it? They focused on George Floyd because his murder wasn’t obscure, there was footage of it, much in the same way the murder of Ahmaud Arbery was broadcast everywhere because there was footage, and the American appetite for the most sensational media demanded it.

But the issue surrounding that original question, the Conservative idea that minorities only care about murder if a white person kills them is an area worth exploring. Why the negative view towards minorities in general? You see it on Fox News, Breitbart, the Rush Limbaugh show, even the Oval Office. Take Trump’s anti-migrant speech. He kept talking about rape and murder as if White people don’t commit those crimes when it comes to other White people. That its only ever an issue if illegal immigrants come in. But it doesn’t matter to his base, even though the female Trump supporter is statistically more likely to be a victim of sexual assault from a close friend or family member, its easier to just blame the immigrants — “my tribe is more moral than your tribe.” And yet I don’t see any posts saying “White lives don’t matter to White people unless killed by a BLACK person.” You don’t see it because it doesn’t need to be expressed. There isn’t a group trying to discredit and/or undermine white people and their experiences.

Minorities clearly understand that all crime is bad, they have to lest they all be painted with a broad brush. White Leftists, Liberals, and Centrists understand that all crime is bad. Only the Conservative, be it any of the major voices in today’s Conservative Intelligentsia seem to struggle with the concept of how crimes like assault and murder perpetuated by Police officers and White American regular Joes onto Black Americans plays into the larger pageant show that is American Racism. They seem to struggle with the reality that Police officers, even when faced with actually violent suspects will rarely if ever use lethal force on them if they’re White, or that Black convicts are given longer sentences when convicted of the same crime as a White convict, or that while African Americans as a whole, represent roughly 13 percent of the U.S. Population, they represent more than 40% of the prison population. They seem to struggle with the reality that even if a Black person has a superior resume, if their name sounds too “black” they’ll be passed over for a White candidate with a “generic” sounding name instead. They seem to struggle with the reality that the average income of a White woman over the age of 40 is around $40,000, whereas the average income of a Black woman over the age of 40 is $5. Yes $5. They seem to ignore the irony in their own offices, households, and communities. They’ll call one non-white person at a Trump rally of 500 people diversity. Despite having access to the same facts and statistics as Liberal and Leftist political scientists, they arrive at wildly different conclusions, that always justify their own political biases. Curious. Even more interestingly, they seem to not be able to comprehend the fact that the Justice system, the police, the government — all white dominated does treat crime differently depending on who does what and to whom. And our economic system clearly chooses winners and losers based on race, and is it any surprise that the group that has implemented and benefitted the most from this racist system are not only the ones presiding over it now, but are also its greatest defenders by the numbers.

These protests aren’t about White killers. Its about Blue killers. But when white officers overwhelmingly pull the trigger killing unarmed black citizens, while remembering restraint and de-escalation with armed white citizens — even mass shooters, there’s a problem beyond training there. When black police officers murder black men, Black Lives still matter. It doesn’t change because of the skin color of the cop. All Cops are expected to follow the rule of law — that’s very different from a common criminal. But police respond to white criminals differently, white causes differently, than they do black criminals, black citizens and black causes. There’s a reason why White allies have been invaluable during the protests. There’s video of White protestors telling the Black ones to stand behind them so the police don’t use lethal force.

And yet, White Conservatives call the protestors “terrorists”, and the Klansmen of Charlottesville “ very fine people.” You will never see them in defense of Civil Liberties, though they extoll the virtues of freedom. You’ll never see them in defense of freedom of speech, unless its speech they approve of. You’ll never see them hold the police accountable, its easier for them to rely on straw-man arguments instead. And they’ll always claim that racism doesn’t exist, and if it does exist its Black people who are racists, and if they’re not it is the Democrats who are racist, and that the most divisive voices in Conservative Intelligentsia are trying to bring the country together while Black Lives Matter and Barack Obama seek to tear it apart. Oh and the same people called Covid-19 a “Liberal Hoax” and Dr. Anthony Fauci a “deep-state” asset trying to derail the Trump presidency. But the reality? To the privileged, equality feels like oppression. You want to know why the only child more often than not hates the younger brother or sister when they’re born? Privilege. I gave my younger brother no shortage of headache when we were young myself. And like the only child who has had everything literally given to them by virtue of skin color, religion, and sexuality, they reflexively oppose every measure of equality. Be it the #metoo movement, the growth of the LGBTQIA+ community, non-gender conforming Characters like in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us 2, Muslims in the U.S. Congress, an African American president who still is more likable than their hero who currently inhabits the Oval Office, all of it feels like a personal attack against them. Is it any surprise that White Supremacist activity has grown exponentially since Trump’s win in 2016? They really do feel like they’re under attack, and that’s only because they’ve had no equal since the nation’s founding.

The Lynching of Ahmaud Arbery? That doesn’t happen to White people. Breonna Taylor murdered in her sleep by police? That doesn’t happen to White people. Botham Jean murdered in his own apartment while eating Ice cream by an off-duty cop who broke into his home? It doesn’t happen to White people. The one time a white person was murdered by a black cop — a White Australian woman who was killed after calling the police for help — the black cop was charged with murder so fast he didn’t have time to invoke Qualified Immunity. It didn’t apply to him, and should not have applied. But that didn’t stop his police department from trying to cover for him. The reason why police are so loyal to each other, the reason why #ACAB is a thing, is because no matter what your skin color is, once you’re blue you’re blue. And because of that so many police officers, white, black, and everything in between get away with taking BLACK lives. And that’s what this movement is about. And those who seek to undermine it are constantly trying turn this into a race issue. Yes racism plays a huge part in it, but if a Klansman is a cop and he follows the law to the letter, then he’s a good cop. Period. If a cop “loves everyone” and is loved in her community, but abuses her power when it comes to a historically oppressed group because she knows she can get away with it, then she’s a bad cop. Period. That is what this is about. Its a vehement rebuke of Government sponsored terrorism, Agents of the State being allowed to abduct U.S. citizens from unmarked vehicles and kill with impunity. This is about civil liberties. And those who want to take everyone’s rights away are weaponizing the right and conservatives to push back against everyone else. The average Conservative doesn’t see how #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter are damaging to the principles they claim to be in favor of, and they don’t care, but the young, the old, and everyone in between keeps fighting anyway. And we have to, lest fascism become the rule and no longer the exception.

As history shows us, the greatest horrors in Human history all start small, the greatest struggles in a nation’s history started with a lack of accountability. Its why George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones had to be told in a Feudal setting, where accountability was virtually non-existent, and the world was as Machiavellian as they came. And the cautionary tales of more modern media: Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Netflix’s Black Mirror — all of those stories are rooted in power brokers acting with a lack of accountability. The rule of law, the U.S. Constitution is at the end of the day a piece of parchment. If the public is unwilling to blow the whistle, rules themselves will be broken until they no longer are relevant. That’s why there’s riots, that’s why there’s protests, that’s why there’s massive unrest all over the nation, because people understand that these times are do or die, and the police are going to become even more militarized left unchecked, just as corporations will become more greedy, politicians more corrupt, the institutions we have put our faith in cannot self-regulate.

Time and time again it has been proven, without a free press, which is becoming increasingly corporate as local newspapers shut down from lack of money, and a free people who are becoming less free as a result of the growing mandate of the American police state, institutions eventually work against the public interest. The only thing that’s keeping the United States from turning into Venezuela isn’t the “free market”, its public accountability. And because the American people have realized that their panic button no longer works after years of corporate sponsored lobbyists pushing for shoddy and largely un-American legislation such as Citizen’s United and the subsequent Supreme Court ruling or aggressive gerrymandering, they’ve taken to the streets instead to fight for their inalienable rights: the right to life (family planning, a livable wage, healthcare, safe streets, clean air), the right to liberty (elections that matter, a vote that counts, checks on power brokers and government, regulated corporations, a police that serves the people not each other) and the pursuit of happiness (a level playing field for every American, independent of race/ethnicity/creed/sex/gender-expression/disability). And I see Americans of every color, every creed, standing up for Black American’s right to exist as people, and its heartwarming.

“They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

-Martin Niemoller