It pays to step back periodically and critically appraise who is saying what about whom in heated political debates. Increasingly, both in Washinton and here in Colorado, Republicans are choosing to misstate the agenda of Black Lives Matter activists. Their accusations range from charges of communist plotting to a baseless conflation with Antifa anarchists. Complaints from within black communities regarding police brutality can be traced back over a century. These protests first moved front and center during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s. Little reason exists to question the declared motivation of the black mothers across America who formed BLM for the express purpose of safeguarding their children against police terror.
The persistent and recurring slaughter of unarmed, non-threatening African-Americans going about their lives was made shockingly visible last year while the entire country was confined at home by the COVID-19 outbreak. The attention George Floyd’s murder focused on police behavior also trained a spotlight on the death of Elijah McLain, which had been successfully swept under the rug by the Aurora Police department. The public outrage at these indefensible killings was appropriate and understandable. The license to kill we extend to our police does not imply an "open season" on our neighborhoods. What possible excuse can there be for gunning down a 10-year old child, a 110-pound teenage girl or a confused and mentally ill adult?
The fact Blue Lives also matter doesn’t imbue police with the privilege to shoot first and ask questions later. It must have been a shock to many officers when white citizens marched by the thousands with black friends and neighbors, as occurred in Denver. It was unfortunate that a fraction of self-styled “allies” attempted to piggyback their personal beefs with police during these protests. The overwhelming majority of those detained or arrested were young, angry and white. Their co-opting of BLM protests to pursue personal grievances is a perverse form of virtue signaling. The mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters of the young black men most likely to be accosted during a police riot were done a disservice by these would-be allies.
In harmony with the unhinged attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement have been equally ignorant attacks on what has been labeled “Critical Race Theory.” Once again, critics attempt to conflate an academic debate originally confined to legal journals with anyone’s appeal for social justice. Advocates of anti-racism policies and American history curricula that hint at our embarrassing record of discrimination against blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are vilified. To deny the damage created by systemic racism and its consequences requires the substitution of myth for facts. The New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning 1619 project that places a focus on the role of slavery in the American story is not anti-American — it is an acknowledgment that our insistence that “…all men are created equal” has often been honored more in the breach than the observance.
In just the past week a financial story was reported about a black daughter who wants to take out a home equity loan in order to pay off her mother’s mortgage as she reaches retirement. Two mortgage appraisers estimated her equity at half the appraisal offered when a white friend pretended to be the homeowner. This result indisputably reflects the baked-in racism and other injustices inherent to thousands of daily legal transactions. No amount of sugarcoating by a 1776 Project rendition of American virtues can correct such mistreatment. If it’s not a crime today, it should be tomorrow.
Thirty years ago, I had the privilege of assisting with an economic development project on a Native American reservation. Like most American school kids, my knowledge of the nation's dealings with indigenous Indian tribes was scant. Following a description of “manifest destiny” in high school history class, there was a brief mention of the native presence and a hint about constant friction between homesteaders and tribes — perhaps a footnote mention of Geronimo and Chief Joseph. I determined to educate myself on this history. Truth be told, it was a nearly unbroken story of fraud, broken promises and violent theft. Very little to be proud of. Choosing to claim that discussing such realities in the classroom might contribute to further discord is utter nonsense. Victims of racism do not forget past injuries, Thankfully, we have the opportunity to restore fairness.
Black Lives Matter isn’t a form of civil insurrection, but a plaintive petition insisting we look at and correct the shocking systemic inequalities we see around us as best we can. Looking away or preaching denial is an ethical betrayal. We need not condemn our forefathers. Painfully and slowly American behavior is improving. We must accomplish what we can and then leave it to our children to do better. Silence is complicity.