- - Monday, September 28, 2015

How better to thwart the meaning and intent of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan than to counter it immediately with “All Lives Matter.” No-one can disagree with the idea that all lives matter without sounding heartless. Immediately, of course, the meaning of black lives matter is obscured even though thinking people know that its intent is to point out that black lives in America continue to be at greater risk than white lives.

We are talking here about human lives – not newly fertilized eggs, not every life form on earth, but those lives already being lived outside the womb, from babies and toddlers to schoolchildren and teenagers, from young adults to the elderly. People – like each of us.

I will not bore you with the horrendous statistics. If you don’t know the numbers, you know the facts. Black lives have not and still do not matter in the same way white lives have and still do. Is there any doubt whose lives are at greater risk? No amount of wishful thinking, of countering the slogan with the immediate rejoinder “All lives matter” can obscure the racism that continues to be swept under the rug and allows for the disparity in the prospects of newly born black and white children to reach maturity in a nurturing, violence-free community.

Tactics, on all sides, deserve criticism. It defeats a worthy purpose to shout down would-be or proven allies, like Sen. Bernard Sanders, or to prevent a police official, as in the case of Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey of Philadelphia, from having an open meeting and dialogue with citizens. This is misguided and wasteful of opportunity, but counterproductive tactics mustn’t be allowed to stop the conversation each of us has to have within ourselves. Do I understand why the protest is being made, or do I not? The answer is not guaranteed to make us comfortable.

The sad truth is that while we acknowledge the statistics that support the premise of Black Lives Matter, so many of those who are irritated by its repetition don’t really believe that “All lives matter.” Do all schoolchildren’s lives matter? How about all churchgoers’ lives? All moviegoers? All college students? All television reporters? All kids playing on their doorsteps? All innocent bystanders?

I live in an area that has a history of crime. At one time in our history, mob (or Mob) killings were not infrequent. Most people in the neighborhood, however, dismissed these terrible events saying, “At least they only kill each other.” In a world of fewer guns, drive-by shootings were rare, and victims were carefully targeted and hit. This was a comfort, even a joke, to non-Mob members. It assured the rest of us that their lives meant less than ours and the drama of the murders could even be enjoyed as a spectator sport in books, movies, and our local restaurants. Rarely was a victim considered as one of the people we talk about when we say “All lives matter.”

Recent statistical data reporting on numbers of “mass shootings” (defined as four or more people shot in one event), was considered flawed by John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center, because this broad definition includes gang killings and domestic disputes that “the average person” wouldn’t necessarily consider a “mass shooting.” In other words, like those Mob victims of the past in my neighborhood, those are throwaway people whose lives shouldn’t be counted as much as ours. Besides, those real numbers of mass shootings make us a laughingstock or object of pity in other “advanced” countries.

What kind of people are we? How far can our hypocrisy go? If the only answer to school shootings is to arm teachers and drill children to run, hide, and live in fear we have seriously lost our way as well as our belief that all lives matter. Arm the church staff! Arm the movie ushers! Teach every college student to shoot!

But wait a minute. Wouldn’t that require almost everyone to buy arms and ammunition? Could there possibly be a connection here? Who profits from our fear? Are there any entities, forces, organizations, businesses out there selling a bill of goods wrapped in calculated distortions of Second Amendment rights to people whose patriotism or virility or “exceptionalism” must be expressed by firing a gun?

We cannot say all lives matter in a meaningful way until we acknowledge our failure to mean it when we say it. When we mean it, we will ensure that everyone is entitled to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness without impinging on the safety, security, and rights of the weakest members of society. Perhaps then the United States of America can be first in education instead of in numbers of incarcerated citizens; lowest instead of twenty-seventh in infant mortality; and lowest instead of highest in gun violence.

Black Lives Matter throws into relief a picture of ourselves we don’t want to see.

Dr.Thelma Reese, co-author with Dr. Barbara Fleisher of “The New Senior Woman: Reinventing the Years Beyond Mid-Life,” is also co-host, with Dr. Fleisher, of the blog ElderChicks.com. A retired English and educational psychology professor, she was director of the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy in Philadelphia and a consultant to national educational and publishing companies. She is a frequent contributor to American CurrentSee.

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