Black Lives Matter, The Police, And The Nature Of False Dichotomies

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Positions are hardening, to use President Obama’s term. Lines are being drawn in the sands of social media. Either you’re pro Black Lives Matter or pro police — we see it every day on our feeds. It’s tough to find the nuance, especially with our favored sources feeding us more and more of the stuff we want to hear and like-minded friends bolstering our biases. All sides are deeply entrenched, heels dug in the soil.

Black Lives Matter vs. the cops. It’s rarely written that way, but it’s implied when officers abandon their posts at a basketball game because the players choose to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts, when a conservative commentator calls BLM “the new KKK”, or when media narratives tie the actions of a lone extremist to the entire organization. Over and over we see the two positions treated like trains headed straight at each other. You can only be on one train and you’d better hold on because they’re going to crash. It’s indicative of our time in history, in which the side you’re on seems to be a bigger and bigger part of everyone’s personal identity.

But it’s all wrong. There are no trains. The paths being trod are interwoven, but not oppositional. They form a Venn diagram, not a pie chart. The very notion that Black Lives Matter and the police are diametrically opposed is a false dichotomy, it suggests an “either/or” dilemma that just isn’t real. Look at the Wall Street Journal’s Red Feed/Blue Feed entries connected to these recent shootings — the warring narratives are unrecognizable, though the core information is identical, setting us up for a whole bunch of failed logic. Blue lives and black lives are being pitted against one another.

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In the calm cool light of day, these false dichotomies are easy to recognize. Of course you can be supportive of the police and the vital role they play in our society, while still wanting justice for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the millions of black men who live in fear of unwarranted police violence. As Trevor Noah put it, “In reality, you can be pro cop and pro black.”

You can march and protest and be peacefully arrested without ever vilifying all police, just as so many marchers have done in cities across the country. You can also believe in systemic racism in the justice system without thinking that all people working in the justice system are implicitly racist. You can battle for equality without wishing for or promoting violence against law enforcement. You can be a police officer who hugs protesters without betraying your fellow officers. You can honor hardworking, honest cops as heroes, while still demanding that on an individual, departmental, and overarching level, they strive to eliminate racial bias.

None of these ideas are mutually exclusive. There is no duality. It’s not binary.

Rallying against police violence in a protest setting doesn’t imply disrespect or make you anti-cop. To suggest that it does pushes the idea that respect and being questioned are opposite sides of a coin, when they clearly aren’t. We often question the people we respect most (our parents, our teachers, our friends), we push and pull ideas and grow respect through the freedom of discourse.