On Saturday, Dec. 20, Ismaaiyl Brinsley killed two New York City police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, in an ambush shooting in Brooklyn. Brinsley, thought to have been motivated by revenge against the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island at the hands of police earlier in 2014, had expressed anti-government sentiments on his Instagram account and had a history of mental illness, according to the New York Times.
The murder of these officers, although certainly tragic and unnerving, is a violent anomaly amidst what have been largely peaceful protests in the wake of the events in Ferguson. The media, however, has not been shy about connecting the two tragedies and pitting communities of color against law enforcement. Where Ferguson protesters have been using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to discuss vestigial racism in American society on social media, a new cohort of activists have adopted the hashtag #BlueLivesMatter to express their support for police forces.
Although many posts are well-intentioned, #BlueLivesMatter undermines #BlackLivesMatter and the whole message of the Ferguson protesters. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and a whole host of innocent black men died because our culture is still sick with racism, and black males are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. #BlackLivesMatter is therefore protesting an unhealthy pattern of discrimination. The murder of the officers, although equally appalling, does not represent any such pattern. It is instead a freak accident of our country’s lax regulations on firearms that allow far too often for criminals and the mentally unstable to shoot up schools or movie theaters or, in this case, cop cars.
Discrimination against people of color remains rampant and systemic in American society; therefore, declaring #BlackLivesMatter is a way of giving voice to the powerless and fighting against the status quo. On the contrary, there is no need for a hashtag that gives an even greater voice to the powerful and reinforces the status quo. And since #BlueLivesMatter is so blatantly ripped off of #BlackLivesMatter, it comes off as reactionary and defensive. It’s sort of the same idea as changing feminism to humanism or suggesting that we need a white history month in addition to a black history month. Those who have enjoyed centuries of privilege do not need any special recognition that their lives are important; our culture automatically acknowledges so.
I want to emphasize that we can grieve for the fallen officers and feel sad for their families on a human level while also still fighting against the larger pattern of police brutality and discrimination against people of color–the two are not mutually exclusive. The critical difference is that the murder of an officer does not require a social movement to be experienced by people nationwide as a tragedy, but the murder of an innocent black man still might.