At the rate we are going, no lives matter

I’ve been struggling to come to terms with how I feel about the Black Lives Matter movement and some of its key players, like Deray McKesson of Baltimore, Maryland. I’m a person of color, but I am also a person of some amount of vicarious white privilege. I can’t possibly compare my experiences growing up and living in Maine to the experiences of people of color who live in more racially challenged places.

That’s not to say I haven’t experienced racism both from whites and blacks, but not much of it happened in Maine. It’s also not to say that I have no knowledge of racial disparities and biases as pertaining to law enforcement and criminal justice. I am the granddaughter of an openly racist white police officer from Boston, so I get it.

My grandfather’s racism did not define his entire person, though. Further, just because I had an openly racist cop for a grandfather doesn’t mean I think all law enforcement officers are racist. I’ve met some pretty amazing human beings who are in law enforcement. Racism and biases exist in just about every field and profession.

However, I don’t know that racism is any more pervasive in law enforcement than in any other field. I do know that I believe that most people, law enforcement or otherwise, are NOT racist; and I’m getting a little tired of a national dialogue that makes it look like most of us are. I’m getting really tired of a national dialogue that has escalated to a point where law enforcement officers are being gunned down.

Do we need to have a policy-based dialogue pertaining to best practices for law enforcement? Yes. As I’ve written before, though, the bulk of that conversation should focus on our ever-growing, unrealistic expectations of law enforcement. Focusing on those expectations would necessarily lead to a dialogue about social system failures far beyond the control of law enforcement.

Once the conversation focuses the social system failures feeding our unrealistic expectations of law enforcement, real change will happen.

What social systems are failing too many of us? Families, schools (pre and post secondary), mental and physical health provision, all levels of government, banking and investment, employers … the list goes on. I could write a dissertation on how the failures of each category listed has increased demand on law enforcement.

I’d start with all levels of government, however, since our elected officials are ultimately responsible for supporting social systems in such a way that they can succeed, rather than fail.

But that’s not what I am hearing from the Black Lives Matter movement and that I am not hearing such things bothers me greatly. Narrowing the blame to police and history is to avoid what really needs to change today. Now.

Recently McKesson did an interview with Stephen Colbert. The interview followed McKesson’s arrest at a protest in Baton Rouge, LA, but preceded the attack on law  enforcement that happened there yesterday. When Colbert asked him to speak to the idea that he was too hard on law enforcement, McKesson compared expectations of law enforcement with expectations of doctors. How is that a bad comparison, let me count the ways.

First, doctors have considerably more education and resources than law enforcement personnel. Second, even given that level of education and resources, doctors make a heck of a lot of mistakes — arguably making law enforcement look highly functional.

Apparently McKesson missed the press release about the Johns Hopkins study suggesting that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America. 251,000 deaths a year at the hands of highly educated medical professionals makes the 1134 Americans (as per a report by The Guardian) killed by law enforcement in 2015 look like chump change.

Hashtag sick lives matter. And how about a hashtag crazy lives matter because the Guardian report suggested mental illness is more likely to contribute to a tragic outcome at the hands of law enforcement than being young, male and black. As a person of color with mental health diagnoses AND a racist cop for a grandfather, you’d think I’d be all in with dissing law enforcement, but I’m not.

On the contrary, I feel nothing but respect for most law enforcement officers who are doing an under appreciated, critical-to-community job that frankly, I couldn’t do.

The wall at the back of the memorial in Augusta listing the names of fallen Maine law enforcement officers.  Photo by Trish Callahan

The wall at the back of the memorial in Augusta listing the names of fallen Maine law enforcement officers. Photo by Trish Callahan

I am all in for making real change that uplifts everyone — all lives, be they black, blue, white, mentally ill, should matter. I truly believe that’s what Dr. King would want us to be focusing on at this critical time. I can’t even pretend to grasp the profundity of his philosophies, but I’d like to think that he’d approve of the protesting going on, while being concerned about the emphasis on division rather than unity.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Stock photo - Pixabay)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Stock photo – Pixabay)

I base that belief on the fact that Dr. King had turned his attention more toward the issue of poverty in the year before he was assassinated, and he called on all races and religions to come together.

I’d like to think that were Dr. King still alive, he’d find a way to balance concern about racial bias in policing with unequivocal statements about random retaliatory violence against law enforcement being completely unjustified. I waited for McKesson to say something to that effect during his interview with Colbert, who offered him repeated opportunities to do so, but McKesson missed every pitch across the plate.

How disappointing. Until we are willing to dig a little deeper and ask a little more of ourselves, our leaders, and our social systems, the harsh reality is that no lives matter because nothing is really going to change.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.