I have a lot of [Facebook] friends who are very vocal and active in their support of police officers, especially the NYPD. Some of them are cops themselves, and others are married to someone or have family that are in the police force. While I have complicated emotions towards American policing generally, I deeply respect these friends’ posts that commemorate fallen officers or highlight the dangers of this chosen profession. After all, I’d like to believe that most people choose to serve as officers out of good intention (but as the field of humanitarianism knows, good intention is never enough and can even sometimes be more harmful that helpful). Even those who have maligned hearts and deep implicit prejudices are still people. A life lost is never to be celebrated or even shrugged at.
While I respect and even sympathize with my actively vocal pro-police friends, and while I care about the lives of police officers, I do not support “Blue Lives Matter.”It may sound anti-cop, but it’s not, because the phrase has much deeper implications. I care about the lives of cops; I care about their safety, their families, and their identities beyond the uniform. You can care about all these things and still refuse to use the racist term “Blue Lives Matter.”
This is where people roll their eyes and tell me “Blue Lives Matter” has nothing to do with race. As Trump would say: WRONG. This phrase was born out of a reaction to #BlackLivesMatter, a movement to draw attention at the deeply rooted institutional, cultural, and systemic racism our nation has created and bought into that disproportionately affects the lives of Black Americans. “Blue Lives Matter” did not exist before this movement. It arose and attempted to co-opt #BLM’s name when #BLM brought up systemic police violence, systemic police corruption, the injustices of our judicial systems, and the need to abolish our current incarceration system. First off, co-opting a name is already offensive and adversarial, so that’s not a great start.
Secondly, if you follow this closely, those who most actively shout “Blue Lives Matter” are those who are usually responding to #BlackLivesMatter situations or highlighting crimes of POCs. Rarely do we see “Blue Lives Matter” galvanization when police lives are senselessly taken away by non-POCs, especially in situations unrelated to #BLM. There isn’t a rally or an uproar when a white shooter attacks officers. Most recently, “Blue Lives Matter” folks have been relatively quiet in reaction to the Iowa shooting last week.
Lastly, “Blue Lives Matter” has taken on the rhetoric that cop killings have increased because of #BLM and cops are killed at the hands of POCs, especially black men. This is false, based on racial bias and not on statistics. If you’re going to categorize danger by race, then stats show that white men are the most threatening to police lives. Yet white men posing danger are treated with more restraint by officers and, despite attacking officers, tend to come out of an attempted arrest alive and unharmed (hence, the #BlackLivesMatter movement). Words matter and the rhetoric that “Blue Lives Matter” dishes out is harmful for public perception of POCs.
So yes, “Blue Lives Matter” may on the surface seem to have nothing to do with race, but the history and background of it holds deep racist undertones. You may not use it out of racist intention, but it doesn’t change the truth behind it. If you care about and support the work and safety of police officers, it’s time to find a new catchphrase instead of a co-opted one with racist implications.