The movement was founded on a falsehood. Scapegoating the police ignores the true threats to the urban poor.
By Jason L. Riley, WSJ Opinion, Sept. 8, 2015
Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect.
— Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
The great lie of the summer has been the Black Lives Matter movement. It was founded on one falsehood—that a Ferguson, Mo., police officer shot a black suspect who was trying to surrender—and it is perpetuated by another: that trigger-happy cops are filling our morgues with young black men.
The reality is that Michael Brown is dead because he robbed a convenience store, assaulted a uniformed officer and then made a move for the officer’s gun. The reality is that a cop is six times more likely to be killed by someone black than the reverse. The reality is that the Michael Browns are a much bigger threat to black lives than are the police. “Every year, the casualty count of black-on-black crime is twice that of the death toll of 9/11,” wrote former New York City police detective Edward Conlon in a Journal essay on Saturday. “I don’t understand how a movement called ‘Black Lives Matter’ can ignore the leading cause of death among young black men in the U.S., which is homicide by their peers.”
Actually, it’s not hard to understand at all, once you realize that this movement is not about the fate of blacks per se but about scapegoating the police in particular, and white America in general, for antisocial ghetto behavior. It’s about holding whites to a higher standard than the young black men in these neighborhoods hold each other to. Ultimately, it’s a political movement, the inevitable extension of a racial and ethnic spoils system that helps Democrats get elected. The Black Lives Matter narrative may be demonstrably false, but it’s also politically expedient.
It’s the black poor—the primary victims of violent crimes and thus the people most in need of effective policing—who must live with the effects of these falsehoods. As the Black Lives Matter movement has spread, murder rates have climbed in cities across the country, from New Orleans to Baltimore to St. Louis and Chicago. The Washington, D.C., homicide rate is 43% higher than it was a year ago. By the end of August, Milwaukee and New Haven, Conn., both had already seen more murders than in all of 2014.
Publicly, law-enforcement officials have been reluctant to link the movement’s antipolice rhetoric to the spike in violent crime. Privately, they have been echoing South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who said in a speech last week that the movement was harming the very people whose interests it claims to represent. “Most of the people who now live in terror because local police are too intimidated to do their jobs are black,” the governor said. “Black lives do matter, and they have been disgracefully jeopardized by the movement that has laid waste to Ferguson and Baltimore.”
Over a three-day stretch last week, the New York Times ran two heart-wrenching stories about black mothers of murdered children. Tamiko Holmes, a Milwaukee native, has seen two of her five children shot dead this year and a third wounded by gunfire. Sharon Plummer of Brooklyn lost a 16-year-old son on Aug. 30. He was gunned down while standing on a street corner two blocks away from where his 17-year-old brother was shot dead three years earlier. After the older child’s death, Ms. Plummer moved to a safer community, but the younger son repeatedly returned to the old neighborhood to hang out with friends. She didn’t move to escape predatory cops, which is what the Black Lives Matter activists would have us believe. Rather, she moved to protect her children from their predatory peers.
Asked recently about the increase in violent crime, New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said what precious few public officials and commentators have been willing to say. He stated the obvious. “We have, unfortunately, a very large population of many young people who have grown up in an environment in which the . . . traditional norms and values are not there,” Mr. Bratton told MSNBC. The commissioner added that Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report warning that the disintegration of the black family could lead to other social ills had proved prescient. “He was right on the money,” Mr. Bratton said, “the disintegration of family, the disintegration of values. There is something going on in our society and our inner cities.”
But the left has no interest in discussing ghetto pathology. Summer movies like “Straight Outta Compton” are too busy glorifying it, and summer books like Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” are too busy intellectualizing it. The Black Lives Matter crowd has become an appendage of the civil-rights industry, which uses the black underclass to push an agenda that invariably leaves the supposed beneficiaries worse off.
Mr. Riley, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and Journal contributor, is the author of “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” (Encounter Books, 2014).