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Why “All Lives Matter” is Problematic

Sorry, not sorry but “All Lives Matter” (ALM) is probably one of the most problematic statements of 2015.

The “catchphrase” was created as response to the “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) which was was formed after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of the black teenager, Trayvon Martin in 2013. What was originally a hashtag turned into a movement and since then, the BLM movement has continued to grow. The movement gained particular traction during the summer of 2014 after the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York and then the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri less than a month later. Both deaths were at the hands of the police.

For the past two year BLM has been a continuous political and social effort in creating dialogue on the on-going issues black Americans face within the justice system. But over the last year, the rumblings of ALM started to rear it’s head to counteract the movement under the guise of being an all-inclusive alternative. However, it’s not just your everyday non-black citizens who’ve been preaching ALM. It’s some of our very own politicians and presidential hopefuls.

Back in July, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was speaking at Netroots Nations conference when a group of activists shouted: “Black lives matter!” O’Malley responded: “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” He was then met with boos and criticism that still follow his campaign today. Just a month before his fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton took some heat for doing essentially the same when she said, “All lives matter” while speaking at a historic black church in Missouri. This was also a week after the shooting at a predominately black church in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine dead. Like O’Malley, she was criticized and her campaign took a minor hit.

Both candidates have since apologized and tried to mend their missteps but BLM vs. ALM has become a huge talking point of the upcoming 2016 election. Even during the first Democratic debate in October, candidates were asked: “Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?” But my question is: Why is this even a question?

Yes, all lives do matter. But using that as a response to the BLM movement is inappropriate because it actually detracts from everything the movement stands for and is trying to achieve. The BLM movement isn’t out here claiming, “Black lives matter and no one else’s do.” It’s circling in on the fact that issues of black Americans are legitimate and should matter even though history and recent events have shown us otherwise.

What are some of these recent events that make black Americans feel like they’re unequal? Eric Garner, a black man who was strangled to death by officers after being accused of selling loose cigarettes. Michael Brown, a black teenager whose body was left out in the middle of street for four hours after being shot to death by a police officer who went onto describe him as a “demon”. Sandra Bland, a Texas woman who mysteriously died in police custody this past summer. Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy in Cleveland who was shot by police for playing with a BB gun they suspected was real. The shooting took place exactly a year ago and there isn’t a trial in sight. Then there are the numerous less-publicized cases and wrongful deaths at the hands of law enforcement that plague the black community into feeling like their voices are unheard and their lives are meaningless within the system.

One of the most recent cases that displays this lack in equality is the Oklahoma City police officer, Daniel Holtzclaw who is facing 36 counts of rape and sexual battery against 13 different women, the majority of whom are black. According to the Huffington Post, Holtzclaw (who is Japanese and white) targeted these women as he viewed them to be more vulnerable and was arrested back in August of 2014 yet his trial only began this month. However, the final jury selection of the trial is composed of all white men and women so the chances that he’ll face a “life sentence in prison” seem slight.

Beneath what seemed like a “nice” attempt at an empowering and fair response, ALM is actually redundant, encourages erasure and ultimately still displays resistance in actually acknowledging some of the very separate issues black Americans continue to face. If all lives truly matter, then we should be able to acknowledge and support that a specific group of lives feel that this statement doesn’t ring true for them.

I could continue going on and on about why ALM just needs to crawl back into the tone-deaf hole in came from with numbers, facts and figures. But instead I’ll leave you with this quote from comedian, Felonious Munk who completely nails it on why ALM should never be uttered again with a simple analogy.

“If I break my leg, I do not want the doctor telling me, ‘All legs should be healed,’” Munk explained on “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore”, “I want the doctor to fix my leg.”

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