Settle down for a minute. I know there’s plenty of blame and/or credit to go around for President-elect Donald Trump’s astounding victory. No one person or movement is responsible for all or even most of it. Trump’s election was a result of more cultural and political factors than it is possible to accurately quantify or apportion, and anyone who says differently has an ax to grind. But the Black Lives Matter movement played a role in this — however small you might want to believe that role was — for the reasons I’m going to lay out below. And if they consider the election of Trump to be an undesirable thing — as I gather they do — then they ought to line up for their turn in the mirror to do some soul-searching about the way forward.
I am and have been a supporter of the principle behind Black Lives Matter. I am not, mind you, a supporter of the group of professional liberal activists who have been at its head almost since its inception, but I have been loudly on the record for years pointing out that black Americans have a different experience with law enforcement and that this is a real problem that should be addressed.
That makes this a difficult piece to write, because criticizing the professional movement has become tantamount in the public’s eye to criticizing the principle of equality before the law. Also, any such post is likely to be misused by alt-righters and others who actually want to foster racial discord in this country.
The easy thing at this point would be for both sides to continue to drift farther apart and lob rhetorical bombs at one another. My hope, however, is that the movement will take some advice from someone who is probably an 85 percent ally about how their excesses are politically killing their movement and contributed to the rise (and eventual victory) of a candidate like Trump — a candidate who is probably the farthest thing from a supporter of their movement on the face of the earth.
Let me tell you where this advice is coming from. For basically my entire adult life, I have been a member in good standing of a controversial political movement that has been disregarded, sneered at, attacked, mischaracterized by the media, and ignored by people in Washington, D.C.: the pro-life movement. And yet, in spite of a cultural wave that wiped out similar movements in Western Europe decades ago, the American pro-life movement remains a relevant political force, as this election demonstrated. But doing so has required regular harsh re-examination of our messaging, our tactics and our politics — the kinds of things any countercultural movement must do if it is going to survive.
No. 1: Stop the ambush killing of innocent cops.
The importance of this cannot be overstated — from both a moral and political standpoint. I am well aware that the vast majority of Black Lives Matter members and allies have never been involved in an ambush killing and would never even contemplate being involved in one. The movement can still do better to aggressively distance itself from ambush killers.
There is nothing that the American public tolerates worse than cop killing. According to Gallup, Americans’ respect for their local police force overall was on a gradual downward trend until the spate of ambush killings this year; in response to those killings, it has rocketed up to its highest level since 1968 (not coincidentally, another year with major, nationwide civil strife).
When cops get killed for absolutely no reason in reprisal killings, it causes the public to remember that cops have a dangerous job that could get them killed and that they stand between ordinary citizens and danger. Police officers in America have a “halo effect” at the worst of times — when they are under literal physical attack just for being cops, they are elevated in the public’s eye. Moreover, the group perceived as responsible (BLM, in this case) suffers political consequences.
Learn a lesson from the pro-life movement: Violence as a means of political persuasion must be aggressively stamped out of a movement before it can succeed in the mainstream. After decades in the public sphere, pro-lifers know that acts of violence against abortion providers (which are exceedingly rare) must be immediately and universally condemned by rank-and-file pro-lifers in order to avoid public backlash. And so, while over 99 percent of pro-lifers would never physically attack an abortion provider, we all bear the burden of public condemnation of those who do. Life isn’t fair, and neither is politics.
It’s been too easy for opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement to go on Twitter and find BLM supporters gleefully cheering when these ambush killings have happened. That has to stop. And peer pressure is where it begins.
No. 2: Stop damaging your credibility by championing bad cases.
There have been a number of cases over the last year that have been relatively persuasive in terms of showing abuse of police power. One of the things that has been most damaging to the BLM movement has been their insistence on clinging to cases and stories that are contrary to the facts.
In no case has that been more clear or damaging than in the case of Michael Brown, who was shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Admittedly, the initial facts on the ground looked bad, as Brown was unarmed and witnesses claimed that he was shot down in cold blood despite having his hands up and asking the officer not to shoot.
As the facts came in, however, the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative crumbled. The Obama Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the overall practices of the Ferguson Police Department but, after an exhaustive investigation, issued a complete exoneration of Wilson, complete with overwhelming evidence that Michael Brown was, in fact, charging at Wilson when he was shot.
And yet, to this day, some public BLM supporters still peddle the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative with respect to what happened in Ferguson. Look, if you want to preach to the choir, then by all means feel free to continue to insist that Brown was shot down innocently in cold blood. If you want to preach to people who are at least potential converts to your cause, it helps if you don’t bring a story of racial injustice that even Obama’s Department of Justice doesn’t buy.
No. 3: Wait for the facts to come in before freaking out.
This really is an extension of not championing bad cases, but this mistake happens often enough that it needs to be mentioned separately.
That is not to say that there shouldn’t be peaceful protests when it looks at first blush like something bad has happened or that justice isn’t being done. March arm in arm, raise awareness, hold prayer vigils, get people’s attention. All of that is great. And if it turns out that the police acted properly, everyone can be thankful and go home.
The problem has been that these protests have often descended immediately into rioting while there were still serious outstanding questions about the facts at play.
Rioting is almost always contraindicated from a political standpoint, but if and when it happens, the rioters had better be damn sure the facts are on their side.
Here is one example: Hillary Clinton desperately needed to win Charlotte and Mecklenburg County suburbs to have a chance to wrest the state of North Carolina away from Trump. Do you suppose it helped or hurt her cause that Charlotte residents had watched their city burn just a few short weeks before because Keith Lamont Scott’s wife said he got shot because he was holding a book (when in fact he turned out to be holding a gun)? I’m as strong a Second Amendment supporter as there is in America and I have serious questions about the shooting of Philando Castile, but even I understand that holding a gun in your hands when you’re in the presence of cops who have their weapons drawn on you is contraindicated to your continued survival — and quite frankly should be.
If you don’t think a significant number of people in the Charlotte area voted for Trump out of some misguided belief that doing so would prevent another, similar farce from occurring in their backyards in the future, then you don’t understand people.
No. 4: Focus on one thing and one thing only.
Criminal justice reform has become a hot-button issue in conservative and libertarian circles. Never, before now, has so much opportunity existed for some sort of meaningful bipartisan dialogue and progress on this issue. If the BLM movement had stayed focused like a laser on criminal justice reform, something might have actually been accomplished during this sad period.
Instead, the movement was quickly hijacked by professional leftist agitators who turned it into a comprehensive “racial justice” movement — which, by the way, happens to sound exactly like socialism. Some prominent manifestos were released that specifically disavowed capitalism. A movement focused on a single, identifiable problem morphed into an especially obnoxious manifestation of the Bernie Bros. People who might otherwise agree that we need to look at changes to the criminal justice system from a racial standpoint don’t want to hear that signing on to such a movement means they also support free college for everyone and a $25 per hour minimum wage.
Look, if your real goal is to just to improve your feeding position at the Democratic Party’s trough of special interests, then by all means continue on. If your goal is to actually change anything, then regain your focus and be more accepting of people who don’t agree with your views on the size and scope of government.
And, oh yeah, big government is a major reason that the black community comes in contact with the police today, which is a perspective that you might allow to enter your consciousness.
No. 5: The vitriolic condemnation of ‘All Lives Matter’ was a mistake.
I absolutely get why Black Lives Matter activists resisted “all lives matter” as an alternate name for their movement. Black Lives Matter is intended to be a normative phrase, not a descriptive one. People already understand that “all lives matter” — the whole point of the movement is that some lives have been left out of that equation, and it needs to be fixed.
The reason I understand that is because someone sat down and patiently explained it to me. I get it, but I don’t think the movement’s leaders understand how politically damaging it was to see anyone who suggested that “all lives matter” was publicly crucified — a group that included, amazingly, Hillary Clinton.
If prominent figures are publicly upbraided for saying “all lives matter” — whatever the reason — people are going to get the impression that you disagree that all lives matter, even if you don’t. Worse, many are going to perceive that you are specifically saying that their life doesn’t matter. Do I have to say that this is bad politics? Because it’s bad politics.
How do I know that all this mattered? Because the early exit polls showed decisively that the most important thing people were looking for when they cast their vote was a “strong leader” — not one who was experienced or shared their values. Their desire for strength in leadership was so overpowering that Trump won in spite of the fact that more than 60 percent of people who voted considered him unfit for the office, according to exit polls. People show this kind of desperate desire for a strong leader at all costs under one circumstance: when they are scared for their safety or the safety of their family. And if you don’t think the ambush killings, widespread violence and climbing murder rate played significant roles in that, I don’t know what to tell you.
I realize that many BLM activists will have objections to each of these pieces of advice and will be able to justify to themselves — in tones of righteous indignation — ignoring practical political advice and standing firm on their current tactics. Take it from someone who has been a part of a political movement that has successfully fought against a cultural tide that has swept across Western Europe, where pro-life movements do not even meaningfully exist in many countries: disturbing the status quo in a way that doesn’t cause the public to turn against you en masse requires walking an absolute razor’s edge, politically speaking.
A disciplined, focused movement could have created an impression, heading into this election, that real change is needed in the criminal justice system. The BLM movement instead created the impression that socialists were rioting about fake stories because they wanted free stuff. In this environment, a candidate who opens his convention speech by thundering “I WILL BE THE LAW AND ORDER PRESIDENT” starts to look like a more attractive choice to a lot of people who just want Officer Friendly to continue keeping them safe.
We can’t all get away with being Donald Trump and saying any damn fool thing that comes into our heads just because it feels good. In fact, as far as we know, Donald Trump is the only person on earth who can get away with it. Life is not fair, and neither is politics. And the failures of the Black Lives Matter movement to show any regard for the political consequences of their actions is one of the reasons that an alarmingly authoritarian candidate like Donald Trump was able to capture just enough votes to set their cause back by years.