On the afternoon of Nov. 28, officer Garrett Swasey responded to reports of an active shooter at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic. Alleged gunman Robert Lewis Dear had reportedly taken hostages, and Swasey was called to help figure out how to defuse the situation.
Dear didn't plan on going quietly, however, and in an exchange of gunfire with police, Swasey was killed in the line of duty -- one of three people who died during the incident.
Swasey's death was tragic, cruel and senseless. Swasey was doing his job, trying to protect the lives of those in the clinic. It's the kind of heroism that should be commended by everyone, and particularly supporters of the law enforcement community who have rallied around the slogan “Blue Lives Matter.”
The phrase, co-opted from the Black Lives Matter movement, claims to reflect the sacrifices police officers make on a daily basis. But in the wake of Swasey's death, the Blue Lives Matter crowd had little to say.
While the Blue Lives Matter Facebook page offered a memorial post for Swasey, the muted response elsewhere calls into question the true motives of a group of people who seemingly only speak up to drown out the voices of those calling for racial equality in policing. Even commenters who mentioned Swasey, saying something about him being blue and mattering, refrained from attacking his white killer the way black people who kill police officers are usually attacked.
Any time a person of color is responsible for anti-police violence, Blue Lives Matter proponents suit up to suggest that the incident somehow refutes the point Black Lives Matter advocates are making.
When NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot and killed by a black man last December, many Blue Lives Matter supporters transitioned into Internet thugs, using the #BlueLivesMatter hashtag as a supposed counterpoint to criticism of police violence voiced by Black Lives Matter activists. "Sea of Blue" rallies sprung up across the nation as well -- many of them fashioned as direct responses to anti-police brutality protests and marches.
“Embedded in the #BlueLivesMatter campaign is the narrative that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is denigrating and endangering police officers with its rhetoric, further deteriorating the public's respect for the police,” reporter Eric Geller wrote for The Daily Dot.
That's a ridiculous narrative, though it pinpoints why so many self-declared police supporters on Twitter haven’t spoken up: Swasey’s killer was white. Their failure to decry his death exposes their racist tendencies. It’s worth noting that resentment toward officers who abuse their authority existed well before the Black Lives Matter movement. Also, no one has pushed the idea that the only worthy lives are black ones -- Black Lives Matter activists have never been that divisive.
The same cannot be said for Blue Lives Matter, which, quite literally, asks people to make a decision between blue lives and black ones, as Ivy Kleinbart pointed out for The Post-Standard.
“The campaign adopts the rhetorical structure of a tit-for-tat argument aimed pointedly against the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement,” Kleinbart writes. “It pits police lives against black lives, suggesting that we must pick sides. As one person commented in response to Kevin Tampone's Oct. 12 article, ‘What if I am both black and a police officer?’”
Whenever police officers of color -- like Liu and Ramos -- are up for discussion, their status as law enforcement supersedes their experiences as non-white people. Black officers, specifically, aren’t “thugs” like black protesters (though I often wonder if these black police officers would be referred to this way if it weren’t for their badges.)
Last year, 25 black NYPD officers, former and current, told Reuters that they had been racially profiled by other cops while off duty. Five officers had guns pulled on them and most of them said they had been pulled over multiple times without reason. This falls into the well-known trend of black people, whoever they may be, being accosted by police.
Does the black life of a police officer matter? Or just the blue portion?
This brings us back to Dear’s shooting rampage. White people, no matter what crimes they commit, aren't viewed with as much contempt by Blue Lives Matter proponents as black people protesting police violence. The Blue Lives Matter crowd's relative silence after Dear's massacre leaves their thoughts and feelings to the imagination.
Do these people truly care about the lives of police officers, regardless of who pulled the trigger? Or is their primary concern silencing the voices of Black Lives Matter activists calling for the end of state violence against black bodies?
I think we all know the answer to that.
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