Chicago is a war zone. This Christmas weekend saw 43 more shootings, 11 of which were fatal. Chicago Police Department spokesman Jose Estrada told the New York Times that there have been 745 homicides this year, up from 476 at this point in 2015, and marking the first time since 1997 that there have been more than 700 homicides in the city. Additionally, there has been a 47% increase in shooting victims from 2015 to 2016, from 2,884 to 4,252. Most victims are black men under the age of thirty.
In the face of these statistics, where is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement? Where are protests on the south side of Chicago? Where are leaders of the black community such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson?
The silence is deafening, and underscores the opportunity that Black Lives Matter is missing to be a real agent of change in this country.
The controversial Black Lives Matter movement formed in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Travyon Martin, and has launched street protests following tragic shootings of African-Americans by police, most notably in Ferguson, MO, New York, NY, Baltimore, MD, Minneapolis, MN, and Charlotte, NC. Though BLM has directed its anger at both Republican and Democratic politicians, notably shouting down Bernie Sanders at a rally in Seattle in addition to numerous protests at Trump events, the leaders of the BLM movement eventually closely aligned with the Clinton campaign, as the Trump campaign (successfully, in both Main Street America and many minority neighborhoods) ran on a “Law and Order” platform, aimed at re-empowering police departments to increase safety in American inner cities.
At this point at least, the legacy of the Black Lives Matter movement has been one of further racial division in the United States, violent protest and destruction, and a reluctance of police departments to patrol majority-minority neighborhoods, having been told that discretionary stops are racially oppressive (though evidence has shown them to be effective). These factors have resulted in an increase in shooting deaths in majority-minority neighborhoods in major cities like Chicago. Though Black Lives Matter has forced cities and police departments to examine policing practices in order to ensure that everyone has equal protection under the law, the tactics employed by the BLM (and only stoked by the Obama Justice Department under Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, who have saddled police departments with increased federal regulation and monitoring) have created a sense among many Americans that race relations are worsening and there still remains institutional racism in American society. Gallup polling shows that from 2014 to 2016, the percentage of Americans worried “a great deal” about race relations has more than doubled, going from 17% to 35%. That figure stood at only 13% when Barack Obama, who claimed to be the first “post-racial president,” took office in 2008. Rather than attempting to heal old wounds in society, Obama has fostered division at every turn, and despite the anti-police rhetoric, stance, and actions held by BLM, supported the movement, even inviting its leaders to the White House. At the memorial for the five Dallas police officers assassinated by a BLM adherent, Obama announced that black parents have a right to “fear that something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door.” In addition to dividing the country, Obama’s assertion is contrary of the findings of nonpartisan studies, such as the July 2016“An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force,” by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The NBER study found that “on the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account.”
The Black Lives Matter movement, and African-Americans in general, have a right to be angry, but directing the energy stemming from that anger at police departments is misguided, and only serves to harm race relations in this country and further endanger the black lives they claim to represent. Take for instance the BLM-sponsored protests, which have turned violent in many cities, and have resulted in the destruction of millions of dollars of property in majority-minority neighborhoods—shops, small businesses, and homes of people trying to escape the cycle of poverty and attempting to live the American Dream.
The Democratic Party has utterly failed the black community over the past fifty years. Democrats, while building urban political dynasties in major cities such as New York, Baltimore, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, have taken the black vote for granted. Even under President Obama, black unemployment (8.1% in November 2016) has remained almost twice as high as white unemployment (4.2%), and though black unemployment has always been higher than white unemployment since 1973 (when the data started), the hope and change that Obama and the Democratic Party promised to the black community was never delivered. Instead, unemployment is still high, inner-city schools remain below national standards, and the murder rate is at its highest in decades. Though Trump still only captured 8% of the black vote (compared to Romney’s 6%), black turnout was far below 2008 and 2012 levels in 2016, as without Obama on the ticket, black voters were hesitant to cast another vote for a stagnant status quo.
The Trump election presents a great opportunity for the Black Lives Matter movement to change its legacy and deliver real, positive impact to the black community. Trump has vowed to end the war on cops—a brilliant Wall Street Journal article by Heather MacDonald from which the inspiration for this post was taken points out that gun murders of police officers are up 68% from 2015 to 2016—but he has also vowed to attack poverty and clean up inner cities run into the ground by years of Democratic control, stating that “crime and violence are an attack on the poor.” Leaders of the BLM, rather than resisting President Trump at every turn and continuing to politicize every police shooting of an African-American as a hate crime driven by inherent racism in police departments, should work with Trump on the following policy goals.
- Increase school choice for inner-city parents. Big city Democrats have maintained their decades-long stranglehold on power by cultivating close ties with public sector unions, most notably the teachers’ unions. Democrats have long stood in the way of school choice for inner-city families, forcing generations of black youth to attend failing schools, taught by teachers rewarded for their longevity rather than their competency. Black children are more likely to live in poverty and attend a failing school, and also have lower literacy, math, and science scores, due in large part to the lack of access to the full range of math and science classes. This culminates in lower high school and college graduation rates for black students, and a high school diploma is essential for escaping the cycle of poverty.
- Increase police hiring standards and training. Any shooting of an innocent civilian by police officers is tragic, but rather than highlighting any institutional racism or implicit bias in police departments, the recent shootings of unarmed black men by police officers have highlighted the need for better trained police officers. MacDonald points out that in October, the Justice Department recommended that police departments do the opposite, by recommending lower hiring standards (including that applicants have a clean criminal record), to achieve more “diversity.” Effective policing requires making split second decisions—widening the candidate pool through lower hiring standards will lead to officers unequipped for making those decisions and could have fatal results.
- Increase access to jobs training among inner-city unemployed. As stated above, black unemployment is double white unemployment. As a society, we have a responsibility to ensure that the unemployed have access to programs that allow them to gain the skills they need to work in the 21st century economy. Welfare should be seen as a means to an end, not a permanent solution to combating poverty, because welfare will never allow a person to escape the cycle of poverty. A Trump administration should empower states to increase job training programs and tie funding increases to results. Additionally, the Trump administration has already shown it can create thousands of new jobs through commitments by companies such as Carrier, Dow Chemical, and SoftBank to invest in American manufacturing. A bipartisan infrastructure bill the Trump administration plans to pass in the first hundred days could also provide jobs in the inner city.
- Pass stricter sentencing requirements for violent gun crimes and gang-related activities. Ultimately, those who pose a danger to society need to be taken off the streets. Many of the victims of inner city shootings are not the intended targets of the violence. Just this weekend, a man was killed on the steps of a Chicago church, and of course no one can forget the execution style shooting of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee earlier this year. As a society, we must remove perpetrators of these violent crimes from the streets, and stricter gun laws are not the answer, as most crimes are carried out with weapons purchased illegally.
These common sense reforms should cross across party lines and will protect black lives, especially in America’s inner cities, because they address the root of the problem. Increasing educational results and providing job training programs will give not just black but all inner city families the chance to escape the cycle of poverty. Tougher sentences for violent crimes and gang-related activities will keep the streets safer for both residents and police. Finally, better trained and more qualified police officers will help ensure that the split second decision an officer has to make in the line of duty is the right one. If the Black Lives Matter movement can channel its considerable energy to driving these reforms, they will show the U.S population that they can be a serious force for positive change, and can reverse their legacy of divisiveness. It’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is.
Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter.
Photo: USA Today