Dear Black Lives Matter: Focus on Puppycide, Not Microaggressions
July 22, 2016 (Fault Lines) — We like to think we know things. It’s a basic human need. The quest for understanding is the root of all philosophy, and the word itself is Greek for “love of wisdom.” But there’s a problem: because of our limited resources (time, patience,) there are way more things we could potentially learn about than there are things we can actually discuss with any level of confidence.
At the same time, we’re exceptionally unwilling to acknowledge our ignorance, because no one wants to feel left out of a conversation or look dumb on Twitter. So we persuade ourselves we’re in the loop, well-informed, sometimes even expert, on topics we really don’t understand at all.
And we’ve got a couple of ways to project knowledge. Sometimes, we take half-remembered nuggets of information or superficial media coverage and repeat it uncritically. This is why everyone knows Nero* was a tyrant who burned down Rome, or Eric Garner was suffocated for selling loosies. Other times, we substitute passion for knowledge. We steal other people’s content and attribute it to ourselves. We let our bias overcome our judgment.
Love Hillary? Read Josh Kendrick’s take on her non-indictment and feel good about yourself. Hate her? Read Andrew King’s and smolder with rage. Read both? That takes effort. As F. Scott Fitzgerald observed, it’s not easy to weigh two ideas against each other, and there are Kardashians on TV.
But most devastatingly, there are certain bedrock assumptions we share, things we assume are true because society’s been telling us so forever and we never needed to doubt it. We might call these assumptions “values,” and they’re at the root of our most vicious and intractable disagreements with people from different societies, where other values prevail. As any First or Second Amendment advocate who’s had a conversation with a European can attest, these value differences can be so profound it’s difficult to find common ground with the other guy, let alone persuade him to accept your point of view.
This kind of value difference is at the root of Black Lives Matter’s persuasion problem. When polled, white Americans are significantly more likely than their black counterparts to express confidence in the police. Despite new evidence that cops in at least one city, Houston, are more likely to shoot whites who allegedly resist arrest or attempt to murder an officer than blacks accused of the same crimes, the fact remains that black Americans bear the brunt of negative day-to-day interactions with the police.
Study after study on stop-and-frisk in cities like New York or Philadelphia have shown that blacks are disproportionately likely to have their rights violated, to be seized for no reason, humiliated and thrown into walls. Philando Castile survived 52 traffic stops before he was wantonly executed during his 53rd. As Radley Balko reported after the Ferguson riots, blacks in large swathes of the Midwest are subjected to for-profit traffic policing of the most inhumane kind. And blacks are more likely to be on the receiving end of less-lethal uses of force, including beatings and tasings.
All of which translates into an enormous credibility problem for the Black Lives Matter movement. Given how tough it’s been for experienced appellate attorneys to convince Supreme Court justices, who’ve never encountered anything but deference from cops in their lives, of the impact on ordinary Americans of watering down the Fourth Amendment, it’s unsurprising that Black Lives Matter has had little luck persuading whites who grew up with the mindset that cops are people you turn to in times of need to take them seriously.
The sad thing is that things could be different. One option would be for Black Lives Matter to bolster its credibility, focus on laying out its case and presenting sound arguments. Others, including our editor, have done so, whether by arguing from principle or making the case that failing to restrain the police will jeopardize the liberties of all Americans.
Unfortunately, Black Lives Matter has moved in the opposite direction. By emphasizing juvenile college politics and the papercuts of oppression over dead black bodies in the streets, it’s accomplished a hat trick of bad PR. It compounded the skepticism with which it was viewed by people who don’t think unsafe spaces at Mizzou or “Trump 2016” written in chalk are capital crimes; fostered racial tensions, manifesting in the endless back-and-forth over “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter”; and distracted the public from the real abuse blacks suffer at the hands of law enforcement.
Their inability to stay on message does devastating harm to their ability to effect reform. Their willingness to alienate potential allies is inexplicable. Even their notional leaders, people like DeRay Mckesson, waste time on vanity campaigns and obstructing public roads when they could be whipping their movement into shape.
Unless and until Black Lives Matter stops preaching to its choir, filled with slacktivists and college whiners, its credibility problem is unlikely to go away, and America will continue to ignore it as the police violate the rights of the young black men it claims to represent. But there is one other option. Something Black Lives Matter has thus far totally neglected is reaching out to people who didn’t share their skeptical attitude to police, but were forced to rethink because of a bad encounter with a cop.
It can be very rough, even traumatic, to have to reconsider a fundamental belief. But in the face of incontrovertible evidence that the world doesn’t work the way you thought it did, those who don’t repress the experience typically see it as eye-opening. Someone radically rethinking his assumptions about the cops is more likely to give Black Lives Matter a fresh look than someone who hasn’t had the “benefit” of that experience.
There’s a big and ever-growing group of people to whom all of this applies: Americans whose dogs were shot by police. As reported, puppycide is a national epidemic. Literally countless dogs, at least in the tens of thousands, are slaughtered by cops each year. They’re often beloved pets, and they get killed in the most egregious and unnecessary ways, under circumstances that do not warrant a resort to force.
A case that’d make a great call to arms crossed my desk this morning. On July 20, KOKH FOX 25, an Oklahoma TV network, reported that a cop serving a warrant on the wrong family shot and killed the family’s 5-year-old son’s dog, on the kid’s birthday, in front of him and all his friends as cake and ice cream were about to be served. The cop then lied about the killing to the chief of police, who gave an interview in which he repeated the cop’s bogus story. Video evidence obtained by the network proved the dog was lying peacefully behind the family’s fence when he was shot.
The story contains quotes like this, from the boy:
I would have fun with him when he runned around and we played tag.
and this, from the mother:
I respect what the police do, but this was senseless, but he didn’t show any remorse and didn’t even act like he was sorry or anything.
It’s all there in puppycide. The brutality. The callousness. The lies, unquestioning support from other cops, the lack of accountability. And it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white when your dog is shot. If Black Lives Matter decided to stop playing identity politics, it’d realize there are a lot of people out there who support police reform. It’s not too late to rebuild and get back on message.
*Not that Nero.