Why Blue Lives Matter is Not Freedom of Speech

One night I was walking out of the climbing gym I frequent, Upper Limits in Chesterfield, Missouri, (I moved back to my hometown recently) and noticed a cis, white man wearing a Blue Lives Matter hoodie. I was kind of taken aback. It was the end of the night and he was sitting at a table amongst other employees of the gym. These were people I had chatted with on occasion because I’m all about building relationships. I was taken aback because they were chatting casually as if this hoodie had a band name on it.

I confronted the man. He told me he was an assistant manager at the gym, and lo and behold also a cop. No surprise there. I told him why his hoodie is violent and how it will make people who climb at this gym feel unsafe and unwelcome. He told me he supports Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter and I told him that is a contradiction and you cannot support both because Blue Lives Matter is a white supremacist response to Black Lives Matter. Blue Lives already matter. Black lives in this country are the most vulnerable, least protected, and it’s cops who are killing them, along with white people who dial 911 when they feel the slightest bit uncomfortable in the presence of a Black person.

I also told him that I can say all of this only because I am a cis, white woman. I am protected in this country. No one is going to call the cops on me. This person who is in fact a cop is not a threat to my existence. The only reason I was able to stand there and confront him is solely due to my cis-ness, my whiteness, my able-bodiedness, my class privilege, and my pretty privilege.

The conversation ended after I said all that I needed to say to this person. I called the manager when I got home and told him about the exchange and how he needs to make sure that person takes the hoodie off. After a few weeks the manager told me that he talked to the owner about it. The owner said that because he was off the clock he could wear whatever he wanted and that it was a “gray area” because it’s “freedom of speech.”

There is no gray area here. It is only a “gray area” for white people who don’t care about Black people. It’s a “gray area” for those who don’t want to risk their privilege, their position of power, their position as a manager at a climbing gym. It’s only a “gray area” for those who don’t want to push the status quo, who don’t truly want to put themselves or their reputation on the line for racial justice. It’s only a “gray area” for those who say they care about racial justice, but their actions say otherwise. It’s only a “gray area” for those who are comfortable and don’t want to break up with white supremacist, patriarchy. It’s only a “gray area” for cis, white men managers at a climbing gym who are comfortable with the space they have created because it’s a space that was made for them, by them.

Alicia Garza, one of the leaders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, explained in depth in 2014 how when we fight for Black Lives mattering we fight for all lives mattering:

“Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important — it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole.

When we are able to end the hyper-criminalisation and sexualisation of Black people and end the poverty, control and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”

The Blue Lives Matter slogan is not only a false equivalence, it is also downright sickening because it’s an egregious perpetuation of the myth that cops are the “real” victims — most vulnerable and at risk of violence. They get to take their “blue” off at night because they are wearing a uniform. In reality, Black lives are constantly under threat of lethal force by the police, no matter what state, town, neighborhood, playground, convenience store, sidewalk, backyard, or home. Atatiana Jefferson and Botham Jean were literally murdered in their own homes by police officers.

Policing is a tool of white supremacy. Cops are the oppressors. Policing was born out of slave patrols. Today they function as slave patrols still, disproportionately locking up Black and Brown people. The numbers are staggering and you can check out Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness for in-depth study on this. But now these slave patrols, the cops, use a different kind of lethal force — guns to execute — a modern-day lynching.

Law enforcement officers are already the most protected people in the so-called United States (occupied Turtle Island). Blue Lives Matter and anyone who thinks this slogan is “freedom of speech” is really just expressing their anti-Blackness. Blue Lives Matter and those who think it’s just a hoodie or just a phrase, are propping up white supremacy. Those who think Blue Lives Matter is an equal expression to that of Black Lives Matter hold a grotesquely distorted view of how systemic injustice and structural violence operate under white supremacy. Those who say it is a “gray area” of “freedom of speech” when it comes to someone wearing a Blue Lives Matter hoodie are just making excuses and rationalizing away their anti-Blackness.

In an essay published in The Root, Lawrence Ware wrote, “Blue lives don’t matter because blue lives don’t exist.” There is no such thing as a blue life. If you try to fill out a census you will not see an option to check the Blue race box. This is another distortion of reality where people refuse to see the systemic and institutional ways that whiteness and proximity to whiteness affords value, benefits, protection, and resources over those who inhabit Black bodies. Conjuring the idea of a “blue life” whitewashes and dismisses this country’s foundation of genocide and slavery at the expense of Black and Indigenous bodies.

Justice for cops and honoring their lives has always been the highest priority in any court room. “Blue Lives Matter” is an anti-Black statement that aligns itself with white supremacy. Anyone who defends or protects those who believe in this message also align themselves with white supremacy. Anyone who is a manager at a gym and doesn’t fire their employee for wearing a hoodie that reads “Blue Lives Matter” is harboring and cultivating a violent space and culture that is unsafe for anyone who is not white.

When you benefit from white supremacy and you are not impacted by racism how is it logical that you get to decide what is racist and what is not? This is the twisted logic of the oppressor. Cis, white men think they are entitled to determine what is justified, what is racist, and what is an appropriate consequence for harm that they benefit from — harm that they create.

No one wants to believe they are agents of white supremacist, patriarchy. But when your actions don’t align with your supposed morals and values, and you hire people who believe Blue Lives matter, or you don’t intentionally work to make your space specifically anti-racist, then you are letting racism, white supremacy, and toxic masculinity thrive, as it goes unchecked and unhinged. You’re not on anyone’s “team” besides the oppressor. You better stop lying to yourself.

The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Americans Who Tell the Truth

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis

We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang

Transformative Justice Explained by Kim Tran

Transformative Justice

Vienna Rye

Ericka Hart

urdoinggreat by Gem

America Hates Us

Mia Mingus

Mindset Coach. Speaker. Founder of Terra Incognita Media. Guide at Feminist Killjoy Business School. Libra sun, Scorpio Moon, Virgo Rising.

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