What We Mean When We Say Blue Lives Matter

The other day I was walking with my sons and we saw Blue Lives Matter flag. What does this really mean?

Blue Lives Matter is a countermovement in the United States advocating that those who are prosecuted and convicted of killing law enforcement officers should be sentenced under hate crime statutes. It was started in response to Black Lives Matter after the homicides of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in Brooklyn, New York on December 20, 2014. Criticized by the ACLU and others, the movement inspired a state law in Louisiana that made it a hate crime to target police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical service personnel. This law has been heavily criticized for extending hate crime law protections outside of characteristics such as race, sexual orientation, or gender identity, to include career choice. Also, evidence that violence against police officers is decreasing has been used to call into question the motivations for the law.

This movement for Blue Lives matter is clearly being done in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement. While the lives of all matter and those who serve as well, it ignores the core issues which is that Black identity and history is constantly under threat of erasure. Police officers do not face the threat of not mattering. Police officers are typically respected and honored in communities while African Americans in urban areas are suspected of criminality. This Blue Lives Matter movement also intentionally or unintentionally supporting a system of discriminatory policing and racial profiling.

There is no excuse for one person to hurt, let alone kill, another, but I have to say that I am particularly outraged by police violence. Dealing with difficult situations is their job. I am not saying that it is an easy job, but that is what they signed up for when joining the police force and taking an oath to serve and protect. Mind you, if it was not for cell phones we would not even know about these situations. It is only recently that so many citizens have devices to keep an eye on the police who were supposed to be keeping an eye on us. Its makes you think about how deep the history of police violence has been.

And for us as a society not admitting that there are profound and deep issues around race is a problem. Seeing how this is compounded by issues about policing makes fixing these problems intractable. Confronting or avoiding the history of racism in this country seems to be played out in the tired volley between “Black Lives Matter”, “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter”. One need not be against police to want to see them do their jobs and make sure that black and brown men and women are not being targeted.

Following the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol many have called Blue Lives Matter hypocritical as many in the mob were showing support for Blue Lives Matter, yet they assaulted capitol police officers. One African-American Capitol Police Officer even described being beaten with a blue lives matter flag. This has led some to argue that Blue Lives Matter is more about suppressing minorities than supporting law enforcement.

I was thinking about the Blue Lives Matter movement when reading Korach, this week’s Torah portion. In his efforts to get power for himself he claims, “All the community is holy (kulam kedoshim)” (Num. 16:3). Rashi relates the following midrash in order to explain the nature of Korah’s attack:

What did Korah do? He arose and assembled 250 men who were fit to be the heads of the Sanhedrin . . . and he dressed them in four-cornered garments (tallit) made entirely of blue wool. They came and stood before Moshe and said to him: “Does a four-cornered garment made entirely of blue wool require fringes (tzitzit) or is it exempt?” Moshe said to them: “It does require tzitzit.” They began to laugh at him: “Is it possible that a tallit made of some other material and then one string of blue makes the tallit ritually fit and, yet, this tallit which is made entirely of blue is not already ritually fit?!”(Tanchuma Korach)

On the surface Korach is arguing that everyone should share power because they are all equal. While his words are noble, his actions are not. In reality he shows up with his posse to demand power for himself. Like Korach, when people say “All Lives Matter” their language of equality is but a thin veil. While Korach was using the blue of the Tzitzit to get power for himself, people who say “Blue Lives Matter” are trying to preserve a racist status quo and keep power in the hands of a system working against the interest of black and brown people. If that was not the case the “All Lives Matter Movement” would be leading the protests against the police. Were not all of the Black people killed by the police in America also people? Did their lives not matter?

I cannot imagine that the people who say “Blue Lives Matter” actually think that they are racists. I am sure they are just concerned for the lives of people in the police force. But as my son said, no one hates the firemen. Everyone knows that they are their for our safety. The fact that we cannot say that about the police is the issue. It is too easy for us all to point our fingers at the bad apples in the police force or the leaders like Korach’s who overtly misuse their power. What is our responsibility?

If we do nothing to dismantle the system of oppression we are part of the problem. As a white person I must accept my responsibility that other people are being hurt to maintain a status quo to support my life. So lets just say “Black Lives Matter”. It does not mean that their lives are the only things that matter, but it gives voice to the fact that we need to change our racist system. I do believe that words matter too, but in the end we will be judged on our actions. Sadly I have been writing the same blog post on Korach since 2016. When will be learn? Let’s choose to be on the right side of history. I am afraid that if we do not deal with these issues the violence will swallow us whole like Korach.

2020 version of this blog

2017 version of this blog 

2016 version of this blog

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