Wednesday morning, reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were tragically gunned down on live television. The horrific and senseless shooting has once again forced us to face the spectre of violence that hangs over this country. It has also prompted some people to label the incident as part of a "race war," even going so far as to lay blame at the feet of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Certain details have come to light: It's been reported that the gunman, Vester Lee Flanagan II (aka Bryce Williams), posted a series of tweets about Parker and WDBJ, claiming that Parker made racist comments and that Ward had reported him to HR. Flanagan also reportedly had a history of filing complaints of racial discrimination -- in 2014 he sued his former employer WTWC-TV in Florida alleging racism in the workplace. And in a rambling manifesto faxed to ABC News after the attack, Flanagan wrote that the Charleston shooting was one of the factors that "sent me over the top."
It's clear that given the gunman's history, this incident may have everything to do with race -- but it has nothing to do with #BlackLivesMatter. Flanagan (who also praised Virginia Tech shooter Seung–Hui Cho, calling Cho his "boy") was obviously disturbed, his delusions filtered through the prism of racism. It's unfortunate that his skewed worldview has given fuel to people who never wanted to acknowledge the aims of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and have gleefully pounced on an excuse to undermine and devalue it.
For some, the tweets and actions of one man are enough to condemn an entire movement. Flanagan's disgruntled, clearly disturbed mind, fueled by toxic masculinity and access to a firearm, has tainted a movement that he wasn't, as far as we know, even affiliated with. Meanwhile, when Dylann Roof's racially-motivated shooting in Charleston last month was largely viewed as a singular act perpetrated by a madman, not a reflection of all white people.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement, which has been mistakenly seen by some as a movement that seeks to privilege black life above all others, is actually striving to do the opposite. #BlackLivesMatter is about acknowledging that all lives should be considered equal, highlighting the institutional inequalities and ongoing police brutality which make that simple demand impossible to realize. It questions the senseless killing of black people, but it in no way condones the killing of white people as an answer.
In January, after the murder of NYPD cops by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, #BlackLivesMatter expressed this sentiment in a statement, declaring "An eye for an eye is not our vision of justice." Later, co-founder Opal Tometi wrote a blog for The Huffington Post in response to how the shooting was being used to color the entire movement in a negative light.
She wrote: "We continue to be concerned about how #BlackLivesMatter is covered and we challenge the ways in which a senseless tragedy, an isolated incident, is being used to send a chilling message to protesters and to shape a dangerous narrative."
That narrative is one in which the ongoing fight against police brutality and racial injustice becomes seen as a violent "race war" against white people. That's the very opposite of what the movement is all about. The #BlackLivesMatter movement isn't perfect, but equating the push for equality with inciting mass murder is misguided, dangerous, and irresponsible.
I wish I didn't have to write this piece. I wish I didn't have to reiterate that what happened in Virginia has nothing to do with #BlackLivesMatter. But instead of seeing people post rememberances of Parker and Ward, I've seen hundreds of tweets and Facebook statuses scapegoating #BlackLivesMatter and black people in general for this senseless shooting.
Making the conversation about how #BlackLivesMatter has inspired a race war is flippant and disrespectful to the memories of the dead. Adam Ward and Alison Parker were killed hours ago. Instead of using their deaths to poke holes into a movement or ideology you don't agree with it, focus on remembering their lives and their work. Take the energy you spent pouring out hatred on the Internet and channel it into finding ways to stop shootings like this from becoming another hallmark of American culture.
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