Black Lives Matter In Perspective
‘All lives matter, born and unborn’ said Mike Pence, Vice-President of America on 28th June while entering Church, answering a question about Black Lives Matter as part of the global reaction to the appalling murder of George Floyd. Abortion rates in the western hemisphere are rocket high yet this great scandal receives little comment. America’s Supreme Court has just endorsed ‘A woman’s right to choose’ – a euphemism for infanticide. It is recorded that in 2017 there were 862,320 known abortions in America.
From 2017 to 2020 (so far) 772 black people were killed by the Police in America representing 54% of the white total of 1430 for the same period. In 2018 6380 black people were arrested for murder and 5280 white people were arrested for murder. The current black population of America is 13.4%. There is disproportionate criminality among black people in America - overwhelmingly black on black - leading to disproportionate police and court involvement. Do black lives matter to black people?
The current issue is that Police killings of black people in America are disproportionate to any offence perceived or committed. Some appear to be wholly unjustified and are simply murder. Breona Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Justin Howel, Sean Monterrosa, Jamel Floyd and Michael Brown were all young black people recently killed by Police without justification. There have been many many more.
Black Americans have been treated in a grossly unjust fashion throughout American history. However, some argue that the Declaration and the Constitution themselves, according to the Founders’ intentions, contain the principles through which justice would come, as Frederick Douglass and later, Martin Luther King Jr. believed.
The word “slavery” does not appear in the United States Constitution. This intentional omission meant that the Constitution implicitly protected slavery without explicitly mentioning it. This set the stage for the American founding to become one of history’s most confounding contradictions. How do we reconcile so many brilliant minds pledging to be champions of individual rights on one hand, then, on the other, allowing human beings to be reduced to chattel?
The Founders individually saw slavery as evil. George Washington said, “there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it,” and Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence calls the slave trade an “execrable commerce” and an affront “against human nature itself.” In 1778, Jefferson introduced a bill in the Virginia legislature banning the importation of slavery, which he hoped would lead to the institution’s “final eradication.”
By 1850, 80% of American exports were the product of slave labour. The estimated value of enslaved people increased 500% between 1790 and 1860, from $200 million to around $3.059 billion. Slavery’s profitability far outweighed the moral outrage it engendered.
The Constitution of the Confederacy, by contrast, was truly a pro slavery constitution, openly stating that no law shall be passed “impairing the right of property in negro slaves.” The Civil War (1861-1865) was fought over slavery with 618,222 dead, 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the south. Recent academic studies suggest the figure may have been as high as 750,000. In April 1864 the necessary two-thirds of the overwhelmingly Republican Senate passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery. However, the House of Representatives, featuring a higher proportion of Democrats, did not pass the amendment by a two-thirds majority until January 1865.
Racism and poverty are the two most commonly linked causes of disadvantage to black people in America. Poor education, poor housing, poor health and bad lifestyles are also considered relevant. Tendency to criminal behaviour is a factor and crimes are disproportionately black on black. But there have been many successful and distinguished black men and women throughout American history. Authors James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, musicians Paul Robeson and Jessye Norman, scientists George Washington Carver and Mae Jemison, computer programmers Mark Dean and Kimberly Bryant, intellectuals Mary Frances Berry and Cornel West among many and a quantity of athletes, sports men and women famous the world over. Dr Martin Luther King is considered one of all humanity’s greater lives.
In public life there is Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and now Kamala Harris. The most obvious example is, of course Barack Obama. He began working as a community organiser in Chicago in 1985. Early in his time there he said, ‘The violence and despair of the inner city are real. So’s the problem of street crime. The longer we allow these problems to fester, the easier it becomes for white America to see all blacks as menacing and for black America to see all whites as racists. To close the gap...we’re going to have to take concrete and deliberate action. For blacks, that means taking greater responsibility for the state of our own communities. Too many of us use white racism as an excuse for self-defeating behavior. Too many of our young people think education is a white thing, and that the values of hard work and discipline and self-respect are somehow outdated’. (Quoted by David J Garrow, Rising Star, William Collins, 2017 p 507).
Barack Obama thought that America did not provide good quality education for black people. Nor were there jobs sufficient or wages enough. These “ladders of opportunity” should be provided as investments for the future and failure to do so “a moral deficit” (Ibid) he said. But he was critical of lifestyles. ‘“Inner city black males who are running around getting young ladies pregnant and them leaving them” was indeed a problem, for “values do matter” and “moral purpose does matter”’ (Ibid p 534).
Barack Obama was not accepted in Chicago initially because he was seen as neither black nor white and because he had parachuted in from Harvard University. In marrying Michelle Robinson his credibility increased but it was only when it seemed possible that he could become a presidential candidate that the black community began to support him well. His work as a community organiser was never that successful and he entered politics because he saw its limitations as a vehicle for change. What is confusing is that Barack Obama was President for eight years (2008-16) and he did little in that time to help black people and almost nothing about Police brutality. The last chapter of Garrow’s book is entitled ‘The President did not attend As he was golfing’. Obama seems to have given up on changing human nature and with his wife together they have become fabulously rich. He has more than fulfilled The American Dream.
American police brutality is at odds with western liberalism. It is not all one way. In 2018 144 police were killed in the line of duty. We expect to see and do see Police brutality in China, Russia, in Islamic countries and in dictatorships the world over. ‘The Land of the Free’ is an oxymoron for it is not so for everyone. ‘The poor you have with you always’, said Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 26:11). Poverty is relative. In America there is gross wealth with which to compare it. But in every human life born has potential. Even Jesus had an inauspicious start to life. Levelling up must be the aspiration of all good government. Individual responsibility is equally necessary. It is rarely mentioned in public debate. Black Lives Matter is a minority activist protest group. With clear legitimate grievances in relation to Police brutality it should also show maturity and lead black people towards better living and better circumstances. Nor should it be hijacked by international socialist anarchists, anti-capitalists and anti-semites for their own purposes.