Disclaimer: I am white. I do not have firsthand experience with the struggles that the black community faces with police brutality. However, the key to being a good ally is educating others, and the best way to do so is with clear, concise, and factual arguments when you lack the emotional anecdotes that come with that first-hand experience. Since I’ve been in my very conservative and predominantly white town, here’s how I’ve responded to some of the most common critiques of the Black Lives Matter movement and the current protests.
1). “What about the 3,378 white people that were killed by police in 2013-2019 compared to the 1,944 black people?”
This argument fails to take into account population density by race. African Americans make up 12.7% of the US population, whereas 61.1% identify with the label of “non-hispanic white.” This means that 42 African Americans per million were killed compared to the 14 per million among white individuals, making African American’s three times more likely to be killed.
Furthermore, black individuals were 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed than white individuals, with 17% not carrying a weapon at the time. This is in comparison to the 13% of white victims who were not carrying a weapon. A good contextualization of this statistic could be the non-violent response seen in police forces during the re-opening protests, where predominately white protestors were showing up armed with assault weapons.1 However, when Black Lives Matter protestors take to the streets unarmed, they’re met with tear gas (an illegal chemical weapon in international warfare, FYI) and rubber bullets.2
2). “Why aren’t we hearing about police brutality and killing among other races? Shouldn’t all lives matter, why just black ones?”
The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t saying that black lives matter more than other races; it simply wants black lives to be valued like other lives are. This includes the often negative portrayal of black individuals in the media, the judicial system (where there are racial disparities in sentencing), and our police system where there is obvious discrimination.3
Movements also tend to work best when they cater to a group’s specific wants and needs. Conservatives often critique the women’s march for having too many values incorporated into their missions, but they critique BLM for being too focused and exclusionary.
3). “Why doesn’t the movement care about black-on-black crime? Why is it only focused on police-on-black?”
First, races are segregated in the US, by housing, by schools, by the rural-urban divide; it makes sense that people would tend to commit crimes in the groups they exist in. Yes, 90% of African American homicide victims were killed by other African Americans, but 82% of white american homicide victims were killed at the hands of other white individuals: yet you never hear the phrase “white-on-white crime”.4
Second, authority figures, like police who have access to lethal weapons and who took an oath to enforce the law, should be held to a higher standard than a normal citizen. It is their duty to one, have knowledge of the law and people’s rights under them, and two, how to de-escalate when those laws are broken without the use of excessive force.
However, when hairdressers undergo a longer training period than police officers in EVERY US STATE, you can understand why we’re seeing the level of police brutality that we are, and it’s unacceptable. A legitimate, achievable, and concrete goal is better police training, it’s a goal that a movement can achieve and should set its focus to.
4). What about the protesters that have looted and vandalized stores, with all the arrests and violence these protests must be doing more harm than good?”
I would make the distinction between protesters and looters, and point out that a majority of protesters are demonstrating peacefully and not vandalizing or stealing.
In fact, some (not all) looting has been linked to white nationalist groups coming in from outside the state/city to make peaceful protesters look violent.567 These same white supremacy groups have also created twitter accounts labelled as segments of antifa. These accounts have encouraged violence in protests in order to make the mostly young and black protestors, the demographic which antifa is mostly composed of, look at fault for the reckless actions of a few.8
Looting is a lot more likely when previous peaceful protests have been ineffective, just as calls for racial justice have been throughout American history. Maybe we should listen a bit more closely. We should have listened before, but better late than never.
Merchandise can be replaced, human lives cannot. Until we mourn people as we do corporations, we’ll only continue to see the violence that’s happening now.
There is also various documentation of protests being peaceful, only to result in unnecessary police force which turns the protest chaotic.9 These attacks range from firing tear gas and rubber bullets without provocation to driving police cars into non-violent crowds. These demonstrations of unnecessary police brutality are the driving forces behind peaceful protests turning to riots.
5). “But it’s not ALL cops that are bad!”
Actually, ACAB doesn’t stand for ‘all cops are bad’, it stands for ‘all cops are bastards’, with bastard being rooted in the verb to bastardize, meaning to corrupt. It means that all cops are submitting themselves to a corrupt system, and therefore are corrupt themselves for being a part of it. By saying ACAB, I’m not saying that every cop is actively immoral, but I am saying that every cop is perpetrating, knowingly or unknowingly, a harmful system by continuing to benefit from being a member of it. So, until the system is dismantled from the bottom up, ACAB.
When talking about any issue with the aim of changing someone’s mind, keep in mind their level of knowledge on the topic, and cater to examples and language that they can easily understand. Listen as well as speak, and back up your statements with statistics. Make sure the dialogue remains educational and cordial, not argumentative, but don’t back down on your beliefs.
Alongside informing family, friends, and acquaintances about ongoing injustice and why the current fight against them is so important, donate to BLM causes, and if you don’t have the money, watch videos where the ad revenue goes to those causes instead. Support socially conscious companies, sign petitions, and don’t lose your passion for the causes you support.
Good luck out there. Stay safe, stay healthy.