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Race relations

30 October 2016

The social media-driven Black Lives Matter campaign has been called America’s new civil rights movement.

By Captain Mark Braye

In July 2013, George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. In the protests that followed, a hashtag on social media, #BlackLivesMatter, soon grew into what has been called a new civil rights movement.

Black Lives Matter has organised more than a thousand street demonstrations, bringing attention to the deaths of African Americans – such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, among others – at the hands of police.

In the United States, black men make up six per cent of the population, but in 2015, they were 40 per cent of all the unarmed people shot and killed by police, reports the Washington Post. Black Lives Matter is a call to action against systemic racism and inequality – a call for justice.

Some have criticised the Black Lives Matter movement by responding, “All lives matter.” While this is true, it’s not a helpful reaction. It’s insensitive and dismissive of real issues and concerns. No one says “all lives matter” when someone is drowning – we respond to the emergency in front of us. No one says “all cancer matters” when someone is dying of breast cancer. No one says “all cities matter” when praying for Orlando or another city struck by tragedy. Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean only black lives matter; it means racism and injustice against people of colour is something urgent we need to address.

In the United States, black men make up six per cent of the population, but in 2015, they were 40 per cent of all the unarmed people shot and killed by police.

Still another response to Black Lives Matter has been “Blue Lives Matter,” acknowledging that police officers risk their lives in the line of duty. In July, a gunman killed five police officers and injured nine others at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. A few weeks later, three more police officers were targeted in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Both were revenge attacks for the killing of black men by police.

Let’s be clear – the killing of police officers is tragic and completely unacceptable. But does that mean we can’t support the Black Lives Matter movement? Former US president George W. Bush said, “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.” Does supporting a movement for its best intentions mean we are also supporting its worst examples? Should peaceful members of Black Lives Matter renounce the movement because of the racism and violence of other members? Should lawful police officers leave their profession because of the racism and violence of some police officers? Should Christians leave Christianity because of the bigotry and hate speech of the Westboro Baptist Church?

We often paint one group with the same brush (e.g. all Black Lives Matter members hate police) and another group with two brushes, to suit our beliefs (e.g. there are good police officers and bad police officers). Not all members of the Black Lives Matter movement hate police. Not all police officers are racist. Our world is broken and suffering. It’s why innocent black men are killed. It’s why police officers are killed while protecting and serving the community. We can be pro-Black Lives Matter and pro-Blue Lives Matter – these things do not have to be mutually exclusive.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks about his followers having love for each other. And not just any love, but the kind of love Jesus showed, love that lays down one’s life for friends. As Christians, we are called to show this self-sacrificial love. We are called to live in hope, as the words of Ella’s Song, by activist Bernice Johnson Reagon, make clear: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

Captain Mark Braye is the Corps Officer at Sarnia Community Church, Ontario.

Article first published in the Canadian Salvationist.

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