I am thoroughly encouraged by the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its efforts to draw attention to and reduce the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. I am encouraged to see that the institutionalized racism and prejudice integrated into our culture continues to be scrutinized in a nationwide campaign to bring these long-simmering issues to a higher place in the public conscious. Americans, white Americans in particular, should continue to be reminded of the systemic oppression and marginalization that non-white Americans face every day and the way that black American lives are far too frequently undervalued.
But this is not the way the way to deliver such an important and reasonable message:
I saw a lot of things in this video. Aside from the screaming, the confusion and the intimidation, I also saw people who clearly felt voiceless and powerless, and were acting out of desperation to draw attention to their cause. However, the use of physical force to bully one’s way onto a stage and silencing one group’s speech in order to replace it with their own is not only “unreasonable,” as the protesters said, it is also unacceptable.
The fact that police officers routinely get away with the killing of innocent black Americans is also unacceptable. The racial profiling of black Americans by police officers and the otherization of black Americans in American culture is also unacceptable. The report that 1 in 3 black men born today will likely be in prison at some point in their lives is also unacceptable. And the way that the death of an African lion garnered more widespread public outrage and sympathy than the deaths of African-Americans Samuel DuBose and Sandra Bland is also unacceptable.
However, others might argue that the legalization of abortion is unacceptable. I myself will argue that the U.S. government providing aid to Israel, which continues to oppress and murder Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip, is unacceptable. The existence of human trafficking and child hunger inside the United States is unacceptable. The fact that countless Wall Street executives have not been held accountable for ruining the lives of millions of Americans during the Great Recession is unacceptable.
Our society is filled with injustices that must be addressed, but one of the core tenants of our society is the peaceful and civil discussion of these issues. By breaking from these tenants, the protesters at Senator Sanders’ event on Saturday made themselves stand out more, but they also set a dangerous precedent with their actions. Because their actions are based on the premise that bullying others into silence is an acceptable means of civil discourse.
Following the maxim set by these protesters, it would have been acceptable for a gang of #AllLivesMatter fools to take the mic away from the protesters once they’d screamed at them enough. In the same way, it would be acceptable for Donald Trump to shove Obama from his podium during a press conference so the real estate mogul could demand another tax cut. Would you find it acceptable if protesters forced everyone to stop running at a Relay for Life event so they could read off speeches about climate change, the rights of transgender people, or American veterans suffering from PTSD because the protesters claimed those issues were more important than financing breast cancer research?
The last time I was in Seattle’s Westlake Center, I stood in the rain listening to Jon Stewart on a Jumbotron during the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, an event held to calm Americans during a time of widespread political anxiety and unrest. In his closing statements, Stewart said, “we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. And the truth is there will always be darkness, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the Promised Land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.”
I believe we need to embrace that message. Loud doesn’t mean right. We should not endorse a culture where interrupting others is an acceptable means of conveying our ideas. The moment we do, we cease to be a democracy.
(Media credit: Top photo by Alan Berner from The Seattle Times. Video by KIRO 7 Eyewitness News. Bottom photo by Lindsey Wasson from The Seattle Times.)