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.
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.