Friday, July 22, 2016

Black Lives Matter well-positioned to win concessions on police, if ...

Black Lives Matter is formally an organization and has a chapter here in Austin, but really #Blacklivesmatter is an amorphous, broad-based movement with decentralized leadership and an enormous opportunity to accomplish concrete goals to improve American policing. Grits supports that effort. However, having worked on these and related issues for more than two decades in a red state, I'm fearful BLM may blow this rare and precious opportunity.

Grits has little patience for demagogues blaming Black Lives Matter for criticizing videos of police abuse or the media for showing them. The behavior depicted on the video is the source of people's anger, not the (admittedly enhanced) smart-phone era information delivery system. People didn't need the internet to riot after Rodney King's attackers were acquitted. The Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles didn't even need video in 1965 to riot for six days in response to the roadside beating of a black DWI suspect and his mother. Anger at images of police mistreating civilians is legitimate and understandable; indeed, at this point, from a certain perspective, it's unavoidable.

OTOH, I'm also frustrated that BLM's policy goals, which are extensive and pretty darn good, won't be achieved if they can't convince white folks, who like it or not still constitute a majority nationally, to support them. BLM has plenty of white allies, but to win legislative and congressional votes they need legislative allies from white, mostly Republican districts, which is a slightly different breed of cat. Reaching those voters is possible, but will require adjustments to messaging and perhaps different messengers to deliver them.

Too often, the BLM rhetoric I hear locally and nationally sounds like black folks talking exclusively to black folks. That's certainly their prerogative, but it won't change how police use force in America and it contributes to a false sense that the movement is exclusionary. Meanwhile, if you don't engage white folks on terms they can understand, the authoritarian side has a massive, government-funded PR machine to promote messages favorable to law enforcement and the white establishment. Big-city PR divisions of police departments and DA offices these days are well-staffed with professional level skills and frequently are quite proactive. In fact, police PR departments are best at appealing to precisely the constituency - older, conservative white people - with whom Black Lives Matter has the most difficulty. When you look at the success of Right on Crime and the libertarian streak which cuts a large swath among anti-establishment conservatives, Black Lives Matter should have more allies among Republicans than have evinced themselves so far.

Perhaps because of Grits' political consulting background, I take polling pretty seriously. Pew came out with a good one recently, though the survey was taken before the Dallas-Baton Rouge shootings.

The good news: Of those with an opinion, 43 percent of Americans support Black Lives Matter and only 22 percent oppose it. So the movement is far more popular and has many fewer critics than either presidential candidate, for example (even if those critics are loud and have disproportionate access to soapboxes). Notably, though, "a sizable share (30%) said they have not heard anything about the Black Lives Matter movement or did not offer an opinion."

White folks overall support Black Lives matter by a 40-28 margin. But in this country, political parties are largely divided by race, with Republicans having morphed into the party of (increasingly old, conservative) white people. And Republicans oppose BLM by a 53-20 margin. (Dems and Independents were supportive.) So when you're talking about white districts, those are the voters who must be moved. Legislators in those seats must either be convinced or replaced for BLM to prevail. And if you're going to convince them, most Rs are moved more by arguments about rights than race. Luckily, those rights arguments are right there to be made.

There's plenty of margin within these numbers to chart out a path to victory. Of the thirty percent of the public who offered no opinion of Black Lives Matter, the movement has an opportunity (arguably even an obligation) to identify and educate those folks and make their case. If that work is done, they'll earn their share of those people. Still, it's remarkable that number is so high. Think how far outside the world of American public, civic life one would have to be to have no opinion on BLM in 2016!

My main concerns for the Black Lives Matter movement are two-fold. From an organizational standpoint, I fear that social-media-based organizing may not be sustainable nor sufficiently focus the movement's power if not eventually supplemented by traditional, professional listbuilding and political targeting work and more disciplined communications strategies. Even if they began now, they've missed some tremendous organizing and list building opportunities. The movement needs a less diffuse, more driven voice of the sort that a strong national organization with lists and money could provide, one capable of educating and activating its base in support of a declared agenda the way the NRA does, for example, on the Second Amendment.

Second, I don't think the movement is communicating its best messages well to white folks. Indeed, it's nearly a certainty no movement group has done polling to even determine what the best messages are! Remarkably, despite a well-developed policy agenda, a large number of white folks who support BLM can't articulate the movement's goals. According to Pew:
about a third (36%) of those who have heard about Black Lives Matter say they don’t understand its goals too well – or at all. Blacks who have heard at least a little about Black Lives Matter are far more likely than whites who have some general awareness of the movement to say they understand its goals very well (42% vs. 16%). About four-in-ten whites who have heard of Black Lives Matter (38%) say they don’t understand the movement’s goals particularly well.
That's a problem! Despite far less robust communications methods, you can pretty safely bet nobody in MLK's civil rights movement was unclear about their goals.

If the movement doesn't better define its own goals, others are chomping at the bit to define them preemptively as anti-cop, anti-white, pro-violence, etc.. Once the conversation shifts to policy goals, white folks will see things in them that would help them, too: Funding and incentives for deescalation training, demilitarization of equipment and training, reduced police union power over discipline and budgets, greater transparency about officer misconduct - these are the sorts of goals articulated in Campaign Zero with broad appeal to white folks and the power to convince a big chunk of that undecided 30 percent. OTOH, when the conversation is driven entirely by nationally publicized videos and calls for punishment of rogue officers, much less retaliatory attacks on cops, white folks may see the movement's goal as retribution instead of redemption and its motivating impulse as anger rather than love.

It's also important to be clear on one's goals so that you don't miss opportunities to promote them. The New York Times reported this week on a four-hour meeting between Barack Obama and BLM movement leaders, after which they expressed frustration that he'd not acceded to their demands. The primary demand was that he visit Baton Rouge and the site of other police shootings. They also asked him to "appoint special prosecutors to investigate the deaths and use his executive power to force changes in police departments across the country."

That sounds to me like a missed opportunity. The Baton Rouge visit is pure symbolism and wouldn't have been my top priority in a sit-down at that level. And there are understandable reasons not to federalize prosecution of every shooting death at the hands of a police officer. Certainly, if done en masse, there would be push back from states and the courts alleging overreach. One might come to regret such a policy under a future, less sympathetic president and Attorney General. Plus it would require agreement from Congress to fund 1,000 special prosecutors per year, and that money will not be forthcoming during this administration. Aside, perhaps, from attempting to federalize a uniform, national use-of-force standard, for which quite frankly the intellectual and political groundwork probably has not sufficiently been laid, it's hard to see how much effect federal executive orders could have on the behavior of local police officers in the street.

With all that said, it's not too late to build the movement into a perennial powerhouse for the foreseeable future. There's no question we're going to see more and more cases with compelling video and stories of black folks being shot or mistreated by police. It's nearly as inevitable as the sunrise.

Por ejemplo, this week comes another pair of disturbing videos. Out of Florida in this astonishing video, a black behavioral therapist was trying to coax an autistic man who'd run away from a facility out of the middle of the street, where he was playing with a toy truck. Laying on the ground, hands up, speaking calmly to the officers, it's clear the therapist worried more that they were going to shoot his cluelessly content client. Until they shot him.

Here in Austin, new video shows a local schoolteacher being pulled out of her car (reminiscent of Sandra Bland), manhandled, and violently flung to the ground by a muscled-up APD officer twice her size, coupled with video shot from a side angle in the back seat of the police car in which she questions the officer why that happened and he declares flatly that blacks are more prone to violence and most white people are afraid of them. (Chief Art Acevedo said he was "sickened and saddened" by the episode.)

These sorts of videos will only keep coming, and they won't only depict black folks. (See here, here, and here, e.g., for recent TX examples of police violence vs. white folks, the last of which was shared by 980+ people and viewed 100K+ times on Facebook.) So there will be many opportunities for reframing these questions, to the extent that movement leaders can pivot the conversation onto more favorable terrain.


Gadfly said...

Well put. Also, as with Occupy, decentralization/leaderlessness can backfire. (Of course, the alleged leaderlessness of the original Zucotti Park site is myth, as are other things about Occupy there, but that's another story.)

Anonymous said...

I feel pretty sure that BLM will eventually force change. Common sense will prevail and the majority of whites will want to be on the right side of history. Unfortunately, it's probably going to take a lot more deaths to bring police officers to the bargaining table, because, as we have seen in the past, those in law enforcement are loathe to admit when they're wrong.

Anonymous said...

It is regrettable that the media doesn't tell us about the things that often happen before a routine traffic stop has fatal consequences for a member of the public---or some of the 1,800 police that are killed annually. Briefly put, just a little bit of courtesy can go a long, long way. As an over 60 years of age white male that does errands (laundry) in the wee hours of early morning I have been stopped and asked what I am doing at that hour and I always answer with courtesy to a local civil servant---. I am not contentious, I do not run my mouth and call the cop bad names and the many other ill advised antics I have seen stupid people do over the course of the last half century. We will never know the whole story of any given event because the media likes shock value----which is why the entire sequence of events doesn't become known until much later----examples include Rodney King. By the way, I encourage readers to do some research and find out how many blacks are killed by white cops as compared to black and Hispanic officers. The media is quite crafty at lying by omission and the public would be well served by employing more critical thinking.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I have my doubts that BLM will morph to garner much support from the groups you claim they need backing them as long as the group continues to jump the gun supporting extremely marginal cases. I suspect the average middle to upper class white person will continue to be more easily persuaded against proposed reforms by those professional PR hacks as BLM uses cases where the deceased were illegally carrying guns, were non-cooperative or actually fighting police, and/or had extensive criminal records. Aren't there stronger cases of abuse out there that don't follow those parameters that can be more heavily promoted, at least in white communities, because I already see BLM being marginalized over their choices in this regard.

Anonymous said...

On the 30% haven't heard/don't know number, I think that's because BLM is mainly a social media campaign. Thirty percent is probably equal to the number of people who (don't use social media) + (don't have any black people in their Facebook feed).

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7/23/2016 01:32:00 AM said "or some of the 1,800 police that are killed annually."

You nullified your entire comment with that sentence. How do you get out of bed in the morning and function throughout the day when you are so completely misinformed that you would actually post something so easily disputed?

PS There hasn't been a grand total of 1800 cops killed in the past 50-years unless you count those who died in auto accidents because they didn't use the seatbelts.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@1:32, Mr. Not Contentious, you're spreading ridiculous lies while accusing truth-tellers of the same. 1,800 police killed annually? Check your facts. I'm correcting this one, but that's not my job. Going forward on this string, if anons post false data again I'll delete the comment. This is not the Houston Chronicle or Dallas News comment section. You don't get to make up lies and present them as fact.

@2:24, according to these polling data it's certainly possible. The NRA is a large but not gigantic group, maybe 5 million members, but they are a mobilized lot. Their people show up, for everything. BLM could become that on their issue, their support is wide and deep enough. They could become the NAACP for their generation with a bit more structure and attention to institution-building. And there's a need for somebody to fill that role.

Gunny Thompson said...

Thanks, Grits!! It has become nearly impossible to make comments in opposition on some matters of controversy. I also can appreciate other opposition posts that provide different perspectives. In translation, what's highlighted is that there is more that one side of the coin. Again, Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Three thoughts. First, I wonder how much the statistics have changed in the aftermath of the Dallas and Baton Rouge police murders. Second, I think part of the pushback from whites is based upon the instances where the media has spun out a false narrative regarding these police shootings on to later have the officers exonerated… See, Ferguson, Freddie Gray, etc.. Reasonable, objective people eventually see these circumstances as cases where the officers were unfairly vilified by BLM and its supporters. Finally, I wonder how much the increase in Islamic terrorism factors into this analysis. With every terrorist incident, people feel more vulnerable. With that I feeling, I suspect, comes an increasing sense of support for stability and law and order.

Brenda said...

We, as white people, have had centuries to address this. We have not been successful. A consensus approach has always ended with the erasure of Black voices and the elevation of ineffective white "protectors". We failed after Watts. We failed after Rodney King. Hell, we failed after the Civil and Revolutionary Wars.

#blacklivesmatter is a new approach. They're not looking for a "white knight". White tears don't sway their purpose. It's their movement, and our opinions don't move their purpose. We, as whites, can support or not as we wish. They can't do any worse than we have done.

Anonymous said...

@Brenda…Please. Show me one oppressed population in the history of the world where more was done by the dominant society to integrate them into the mainstream and give them equal status. Johnson's "War on Poverty," the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Brown v. Board of Education, the Voting Rights Act, AFDC, Fair Housing, Subsidized Housing, public school busing, Affirmative Action, and on and on and on. And yet black crime rates, illegitimacy, single parent homes, dropout rates, drug abuse, etc. remain through the roof. That's not the fault of "ineffective white protectors." If BLM fosters a sense of individual responsibility and initiative then more power to them.

Michael said...

Grits wrote to - @1:32, Mr. Not Contentious, you're spreading ridiculous lies while accusing truth-tellers of the same. 1,800 police killed annually? Check your facts. I'm correcting this one, but that's not my job.

1:32AM never limited his/her statement that the 1,800 police officers killed annually were "in the US." Could he/she be correct for worldwide?

Grits - "but that's not my job."
Asking police to be protectors, mediators, negotiators, first responders, investigators, assessing the mentally challenged or those having an episode (stuff that takes "MDs or PHDs" years to learn) properly, amongst a handful plus of other expectations, exceeds their job duties too.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Michael: No, Mr. Not Contentious is not correct at all, about anything. Just lying for effect.

Agreed on police having too many jobs. I've got a post coming up soon, in fact, on jobs we could take away from them to remedy that.

@Brenda, neat how you've absolved yourself of all responsibility by generously deferring to BLM and letting them run with the ball. The problem is, the data show that WHITE folks are the barrier to achieving their goals, and to solve that BLM needs its white allies to step up. Your stance is typical among white liberals today, but IMO harmful in the big picture.

@10:24, how about in South Africa? America has never had anything like Truth and Reconciliation post-Jim Crow.

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in the race on race crime ratio as I believe that has some bearing on white folks opinion. What percentage of the time is a white a victim of a crime commited by a black and what percentage of the time a black is a victim of a crime commited by a white? Rapes, assaults, murder, robbery, burglary, etc...

Anonymous said...

BLM will never go forward as it is based on a lie. It should be called 'Black Lies Matter.'

Michael Brown was a 'giant thug' vs. a 'gentle giant' who robbed a store, beat up the clerk, and punched a cop in the face while going for his gun, and then rushing at him.

Testimony from blacks at the trial. The 'hands up don't shoot' meme from his thug accomplice was proven a lie.

A black female NYPD sergeant was the supervisor on the scene when Eric Garner gasped 'I can't breathe.' Black store owners selling cigarettes called the police on his butt after getting tired of his sidewalk sales cutting into their profits.

Three of the six cops in the Freddie Gray case, ...were black. One a black female.

Yes there are cops on 'roid rage' who are guilty of brutality on all citizens. And there should mandatory drug testing for cops to weed these guys out.

Human Truth Matters.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@HTM/8:16, please review the videos linked at the end of this post from Austin and Florida and let me know what lies people criticizing those incidents are telling. As for "hands up, don't shoot," see particularly the Florida video. Also, check out the poll. Such widespread perceptions among black folks can't all be lies. You're focusing on the facts that comfort you most and ignoring the overall weight of the evidence. American cops use force far more frequently than in other western nations, and when they do, black folks are disproportionately on the receiving end. Grits tends to see use-of-force as an overarching policy issue, not exclusively through a racial lens, but either way you get to the same place on solutions: Basically, the Campaign Zero recommendations (plus a few Texas-specific add ons).

It should also be mentioned that your correspondent spent years pushing the steroid-test cops agenda and the main special interests pushing back are the same ones engaging in demagoguery vs. BLM now. People who think cops shouldn't ever be criticized tend to think that across the board.

Anonymous said...

Bad shoots occur in LE just like bad medicine being practiced by some doctors, and bad law practiced by some attorneys of which any of these practices can result in punishment/death. More people probably die in a single day from bad medicine/decisions made by doctors than from bad LE shoots in an entire year. All of which is unfortunate, but a reality. Compliance CAN greatly mitigate the risk of a LE encounter going bad, but it cannot eliminate it all together.

Anonymous said...

I also wonder to what extent the BLM message itself contributes to an adversarial relationship between blacks and law enforcement. When you condition a group to believe that the police are against you, then any encounter with a police officer--regardless of how legitimate--is likely to be perceived as being "picked upon" or being the victim of discriminatory policing. With that mindset, I suspect that all too often the black citizen approaches that police encounter in an adversarial and sometimes non-compliant posture. Some officers (not all) in turn will "ratchet up" their own aggressiveness in this situation giving rise to a circumstance where something bad is more likely to happen. The Sandra Bland traffic stop is a good example of what I'm talking about here. Sure, the officer needs to be more in control and the bigger person in this type of encounter but at the same time officers are human. When this scenario begins to play out over and over, the reality is that some officers will begin to become frustrated and begin to stereotype. And the cycle just goes round and round.

Anonymous said...

assaults with injuries upon police average about 15,000 per year

Anonymous said...

One can minimize exposure to the US justice system by utilizing mass transportation more often.

The motor vehicle is the base justification for over half of the law enforcement apparatus nationally.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@2:35, this has been going on for so long it's ridiculous to claim BLM is the source of the adversarial relationship. Again, the incidents they're reacting to are what's generating the anger, not the fact that BLM acknowledges and channels it toward reform. Incidents like these were happening before the protests started, after all. That's WHY they started.

@10:27, I'm really looking forward to driverless cars.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed there appears to be some confusion as to what goals Black Lives Matter has to people outside the movement. Your article actually is one of the best I've seen regarding who they are and what they should do in order to get the backing of the general public in particular the strategies to reach the goals they wish to achieve.

I hope their members are taking notice of what you indicated.

Anonymous said...

Grits---What leads you to believe that the BLM leadership, such that it is, cares about enlisting white support? DeRay Mckesson doesn't seem to think that it is important. Marissa Johnson and Nekima Levy-Pounds are more interested in wallowing in the fever swamp that is extremist 3rd-wave feminism. And Shaun King, well the less said about the faux black guy the better. Judging by the twitter comments that accompany every demonstration, a significant number of participants bitterly resent the presence of white supporters. Even those who seem open to wider public support make pronouncements to the effect that "it isn't my job to explain anything to white people." And maybe it isn't.

But political movements have success when they become broad-based. If they are not, the political class briefly pays attention, gauges the movement's potential staying power, utters some comforting phrases and then moves on. You are correct in stating that the BLM movement should have much common ground with libertarians (I know a good number who are deeply sympathetic regarding police conduct), but libertarians are, by nature, loathe to go where they are not wanted.

I have have heard that there is a good deal of tension within the rather informal leadership structure (and I know this is true in at least two local chapters). The cause? Doctrinal purity on racial/gender/feminist/political issues. Apparently, microaggressions (e.g., using the "wrong" personal pronoun or a college food service offering culturally-themed meals) and the need for campus "safe spaces" are as significant as people being choked, beaten and/or shot. These are things that most black people I know laugh off as "white people's problems."

If the BLM movement devolves into another exercise in left-wing campus radical narcissism, regular black folks will probably just lose interest (not in police misconduct or the failures of our legal system, but in BLM). This will be yet another lost opportunity and I've witnessed too many of them in my lifetime. Unless you are privy to information the rest of us aren't, there seems to be little cause for optimism.

Anonymous said...

If some are correct that the BLM movement will make little progress without white, middle & upper class support, many of the card carrying members will walk away before checking their egos at the door. I see some of the same things Anon 12:41 has seen and even internally the movement is starting to tear itself apart as factions of militant feminists are becoming increasingly loud with their own set of demands so I wouldn't bet much on the group having near the impact as suggested in the op-ed.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@12:41, according to the polling, BLM has more white supporters nationally than black ones. (Black percentages are higher but the base number of white folks is much larger.) That alone makes me think coalition work is possible. And your concerns are why I suggested they movement may need "different messengers" to reach white folks on the fence. But the movement is more broadly popular than those Twitter feeds would indicate.

The creation of Campaign Zero was important. That agenda is not in the least identity-politics based and there's no reason it can't achieve broad, bipartisan support. How, exactly, to do that is the conversation I want to have.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I largely concur but given the population of whites is so much larger than blacks, I suspect that sheer numbers alone don't really tell us much. I'm not at all confident in the polling done to establish the numbers or depth of interest in BLM either but I look forward to your ongoing coverage of resulting coalitions and whether they really get anything done given the loose structure of the cause. The possibility exists for meaningful reforms to be made but the probability diminishes as major factions make demands on others unrelated to the core issues.