The #BlackLivesMatter movement has achieved monumental success in political activism, success that is nearly impossible to overstate. Nowhere is that success more evident than in the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, whose husband symbolizes Democratic weakness in the face of anti-black policies, but who has placed a raft of pro-black policies within shouting distance of the next presidency. They’ve also managed to pressure Hillary’s chief rival into a competition for Most Comprehensive Racial Justice Policies (a competition that Hillary is winning). After decades of trying to reassure America that they’re pro-white too, Democrats are actually campaigning on black issues.
It’s also true that Hillary Clinton began this campaign in a deep hole with Obama coalition voters, a hole that she has worked hard to dig herself out of, but which has left a coating of residual mistrust. That’s why activists will rightly continue to pressure her to stay this course, to follow through on the promises being made.
That’s not really what happened Friday, though, when activists disrupted an African-Americans For Hillary event in Atlanta with chants of “Black Lives Matter!” and a rendition of Janelle Monae‘s “Hell You Talmbout.” Organized by #AUCShutItDown, a group that isn’t affiliated with BLM, the action was explicitly aimed at shutting down Hillary’s speech, not redirecting or reinforcing any specific policy asks.
CNN anchor Don Lemon catches a lot of well-deserved flak from black activists and allies, but in an interview with Avery Jackson, one of the activists who protested Hillary on Friday, he managed to hit the nail on the head. Activists rightly bristle at any suggestion that they should pipe down, but Lemon drew out the problem with this action when he asked Jackson why he wouldn’t defer to the judgment of Rep. John Lewis, who interceded on Hillary’s behalf.
Lemon: It’s Congressman John Lewis, but people — he would say that you used his tactics, he didn’t use yours. That you’re using his tactics because he was Dr. King’s. They started it all, and sort of made the way for you. So if you had this experienced politician who is a civil rights icon and legend, and he’s saying hey, listen, young people. I’m trying to talk to you and tell you we’re listening to you. We got Senator Clinton here. We’re going to make sure she listens to you. We got the mayor of Atlanta, one of the biggest and influential black cities in the nation, we’re here listening, trying to tell your behinds, your young people hey, listen to us, we got you. Chill out and listen to her. So why wouldn’t you do that?
Avery Jackson: I think that is the issue. We’ve seen what Hillary Clinton did today. It was pushing an image of what it means to be black and represent black people on these platforms and what we have seen from leaders who do represent us in official position, they often times represent one image of black people, and one agenda of black people, and the experiences and the stories and opinions that are erased are those of us who spoke out today, right? Hillary Clinton came to the Atlanta University Center and didn’t necessarily reach out to us and speak to us beforehand…
God help me, I’m going to agree with Don Lemon here, because what Jackson is saying doesn’t make any got-damn sense, especially in a world with John Lewis in it. Did the Alabama State Police “reach out” to John Lewis beforehand, and make sure they weren’t erasing anyone’s experiences and stories? No, they tried to erase John Lewis. It’s telling that Don Lemon had to correct Jackson when he referenced “Senator John Lewis,” because he doesn’t seem to have any perspective at all on this. Disrupting a rally because the likely next President of the United States isn’t being quite granular enough in her sweeping and ambitious racial justice agenda is the White People Problem of black people problems.
This isn’t the first time that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been poorly served by individuals within and without it, and those occasions are inevitably amplified by a mainstream media anxious to police it. When a local chapter disrupted a Bernie Sanders rally in August, the poor reaction of the crowd became the story, but those activists’ ill-defined aims, and those of the activists who met with Hillary Clinton that same month, fed a narrative that the movement is an aimless shitshow similar to Occupy. The reality, of course, is that BLM has been remarkably consistent at pushing specific policy changes, and remarkably successful at building support for them.
The media, though, has been looking for reasons to jettison the #BlackLivesMatter movement for months now. There was a moment when most people in the media, even many conservatives, were down with the movement. On the heels of a string of egregious incidents, particularly the martyrdom of Eric Garner and Walter Scott, it became not just socially acceptable to critique police brutality, it became a social consensus.
In the wake of riots in Baltimore, a narrative began to build about the bogus “Ferguson Effect,” positing a relationship between a supposed rise in crime rates and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but it was the Sheriff who blamed BLM for the killing of a deputy in August that really turned the media tide against BLM. As glaringly stupid as that was, and as the “Ferguson Effect” is, these were enough to spook the mainstream media out of its near-universal acknowledgement of the need for greater police accountability, and back into “some say/others say” mode.
The facts haven’t changed, and indeed, I don’t even think opinions have really changed all that much. This is not complicated. Anyone who says they’re afraid to do their job because people might see them doing their job probably shouldn’t have that job. There is no choice to be made between police accountability and effective policing. One is required of the other. Here’s how obvious this is: On last night’s Real Time, Bill Maher, Rep. Maxine Waters, Grover Norquist, and dim Donald Trump shill Roger Stone each took turns picking apart the “Ferguson Effect” in a matter of two minutes:
Yet because a few police unions have tried to make BLM radioactive, and President Obama‘s FBI director has shamefully abetted them, the media has been scared off. This sets up a scary Catch-22 for BLM, because the more the media narrative turns away from them, the more likely Hillary Clinton is to back off in the heat of a general election, and the more things like Friday’s protest happen, the more the media will take them as an excuse to turn on BLM. From here on out, they have to be twice as good to get half as much, and half-baked protests like this don’t cut it. You don’t see the people who worked so hard to forge the policy agenda that’s now within reach engaging in this foolishness, but unfortunately, they’re still having it pinned on them.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.