I first wrote this blog post two years ago in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, but in the midst of church turmoil, I never published it. Nevertheless, since the heat around me has died down, and since I don’t think Christians should stop thinking about these things, I’m bringing this one out of the draft bin, editing it, and finally publishing it.
Much of the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement has been in response to examples of police brutality in our country, but there are also a lot of people who have friends and relatives who serve in the various police forces of our country and they are concerned about retaliation against them. More than that, they embody a deep, daily fear that their loved one is on a literal battlefield every time they leave their house.
Much of the work police do is on the razor’s edge of unpredictability, and therefore, police have been trained to be authoritative, aggressive, and quick to respond to threats. We love that training when the response involves our protection even though that training might someday lead to an aggressive response against ourselves. Furthermore, those of us who have been raised in predominantly white environments, have been trained repeatedly that the police are on our side, their uniform is a symbol of help and advocacy, and that they can be trusted with our lives. Those who hold that perspective find it relatively easy to comply with the instructions of a uniformed officer even when their tone is harsh or abrasive. In these communities, there’s a presupposition that the police exist to serve and protect us.
Nevertheless, police, like referees of a sporting event, are both loved and vilified, and since they live in an environment where deadly force is always part of the picture, their battle-ready approach is also understandable.
Those who are sympathetic to the plight of police officers are understandably eager to say, “Blue Lives Matter” as a direct response to calls to “defund police.” Their response is to emphasize the fact that police will do their jobs better if they are given even more resources, more training, and more support from the general public. While some see the structure of policing to be the problem, others see antagonism against the police as the real problem. Therefore, in direct response to “Black Lives Matter,” others have adopted the slogan, “Blue Lives Matter,” claiming that the true injustice is how our law enforcement officers are the ones in danger and how the police system itself is under attack.
As I said previously regarding the Black Lives Matter slogan, I don’t fully understand the feeling of being under constant threat and therefore, I don’t fully understand the experience of the police officer who signed up to serve and protect but feels himself to be under threat of attack. I don’t know what it’s like to live constantly on the razor’s edge of safety. I don’t know what it’s like to have the power of life and death in a holster on your side, the pressure of a bullet proof vest and body cam on your chest, and the knowledge that today might be the day I don’t return to my family. I don’t know what it’s like to be hated regularly for “just doing your job.”
Additionally, since I adopt the philosophical position that every single life matters to God and to me, it seems that I should also be willing to say, “Blue Lives Matter,” but I must admit that I am still generally unwilling to support this slogan.
I have relatives in law enforcement, and I want them to be safe, to feel safe, and to feel supported by the communities they serve. I want dangerous confrontations to work out in favor of my loved ones, but still, there’s a sentiment behind Blue Lives Matter that I can’t fully support.
Specifically, my reasoning is that Blue Lives Matter is directly antagonistic to Black Lives Matter. It’s a slogan that presupposes the problem of unarmed Black men dying at the hands of police is really a problem of criminals posing an increasingly greater threat to police officers. It’s a slogan that treats the deaths of unarmed Black people at the hands of police as the unintended casualties of an increasingly dangerous and violent war where our police officers are the front-line soldiers. Therefore, it’s a slogan that was designed to be antagonistic toward others and dismissive of a legitimate problem in our culture.
Finally, there is a fundamental difference between the point of the two slogans. Black Lives Matter is a slogan that attempts to draw awareness to a problem that has been in the shadows for too long: the problem that there is a statistical imbalance between outcomes for white and Black people when they have encounters with the police. However, Blue Lives Matter is a slogan that attempts to disregard that imbalance entirely. While Black Lives Matter attempts to elevate the position of an oppressed population, Blue Lives Matter is a slogan that aims to give even more support to an already well-supported population.
When it comes to the two slogans, I choose to affirm the one that lends voice to the oppressed and not the one that exists primarily to silence that voice.