Black Lives Matter activists disrupt more political events; criticized by black leaders

In this photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, Tamar Hodges, left, chants "Black Lives Matter" with fellow protestors from left, Veronica Newton, Taj Sconyers, Wayne Brekhus and Jack Buthod as they hold signs at Broadway and Eighth Street to counter protest a group across the street who were supporting former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and Columbia police. (Don Shrubshell/The Columbia Daily Tribune via AP)

When Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her plan to address the recent rise in violent crime and homicides in the city at a Thursday press conference, she was met with shouts of disapproval from protesters affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement in the crowd.

Also on Thursday, activists attempted to disrupt Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign stop in Ohio, calling for her to "invest in the liberation of black transgender women."

The Black Lives Matter movement has faced criticism for protesters interrupting political eventsparticularly those involving progressive Democrat Bernie Sandersbut Thursday's actions suggest they have no intention of changing their tactics. They also illustrate the challenges of having a meaningful public debate about solutions when two sides cannot agree on the most urgent problems.

With over 100 homicides in D.C. so far this year, Bowser has introduced a comprehensive policy agenda in an attempt to reduce violent crime. While some aspects of her plan relate to community/police relations, the protesters took issue with the measures that involve putting more police officers on the streets and increasing penalties for criminals.

They called out "Jobs, not jail" and "More police is not the answer!" according to the Associated Press, but Bowser continued laying out her broader agenda.

"I will not be shouted down or scared away when it comes to the safety of the District of Columbia," Bowser said.

The activists who attempted to interrupt Clinton's Cleveland event, identifying themselves as organizers with GetEQUAL and Black Lives Matter, were less aggressive than those who took the microphone from Bernie Sanders at a Seattle rally a few weeks ago.

Video posted on Twitter shows one of the protesters shouting to Clinton from the crowd outside the event. According to CNN producer Dan Merica, protesters also interrupted Clinton's speech, but she said, "I will certainly be happy to meet with you later, but I am going to keep talking."

She did address the issue of police shootings during her speech, though.

"We've got to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America, just like we've got to come to terms with hard truths about guns in America, and we do have to stand up and say loudly and clearly, black lives matter," Clinton said during her speech.

In a press release after the event, Rian Brown of GetEQUAL said, "Hillary Clinton must stand with Black people, especially Black trans women, by refusing to accept funds from or bundled by executives of or lobbyists for private prison companies -- and investing the money she's already accepted from those companies in the work toward Black trans liberation. Until that happens, we cannot for a moment think that Hillary believes Black Lives Matter."

Critics of the movement have called these tactics counter-productive and suggested that the activists are targeting the wrong politicians by protesting liberal Democrats.

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson is one of those critics, challenging the approach of the Black Lives Matter movement in a USA Today op-ed Monday.

"The idea that disrupting and protesting Bernie Sanders speeches will change what is wrong in America is lunacy," Carson wrote.

While some advising the protesters to change tactics agree with Black Lives Matter that justice system reform and addressing abusive behavior by police are laudable and urgent aspirations, Carson argued that they are prioritizing the wrong issues.

"The protesters are right that racial policing issues exist and some rotten policemen took actions that killed innocent people But unjust treatment from police did not fill our inner cities with people who face growing hopelessness," Carson said.

Carson recalled his own childhood in "neighborhoods most Americans were told never to drive through" and credited his survival to his mother and a library card.

"My mother knew what the problems were and she shielded me and my brother from them. I can tell you she wasn't worried about Socialist senators from tiny rural states. 'BlackLivesmatter' could learn from her to focus on the real sources of our hopelessness."

Those sources of hopelessness, according to Carson, include public education, the entertainment industry, drugs, welfare programs promoted by Democrats, and ignorance of black concerns by Republicans.

A former civil rights activist expressed similar concerns about the movement in a Washington Post column this week, arguing that lack of organization and silence regarding black-on-black crime are destroying its credibility.

"This movement is ignoring what our history has taught," Barbara Reynolds wrote, comparing the Black Lives Matter movement's methods to those used by Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers.

"At protests today," she said, "it is difficult to distinguish legitimate activists from the mob actors who burn and loot. The demonstrations are peppered with hate speech, profanity, and guys with sagging pants that show their underwear."

Critics of Black Lives Matter activists often argue that their cause is undermined by the fact that their protests often overlook the high numbers of black-on-black homicides, which Reynolds noted are the top cause of death for black men 15 to 34 years old.

In a recent video that went viral, a St. Louis grandmother complained that protesters took to the streets on behalf of an allegedly armed teen killed by police but not a 9-year-old girl shot in her home.

Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University, said activists are not likely to pay much attention to Carson's advice. His perspective largely ignores the systemic and institutionalized problem that they are working to reform.

Carson's emphasis on personal responsibility over addressing systemic issues may resonate with conservatives, but "he's not necessarily reaching out to people who don't agree with him."

This underscores one of the challenges of making progress in the national dialogue about the problems facing black communities. Black Lives Matter activists are talking about justice system reforms, but their conservative critics are talking about other issues, and the two conversations seem to rarely overlap.

"They want to talk about police brutality and everybody else wants to change the subject," said political analyst Lauren Burke.

She said other advocacy groups are generally not told that they need to focus on different problems than the ones they care about. Gay rights activists are not told they need to deal with abortion before their concerns are addressed, for example.

"I'm not sure it's for other people to decide what a movement should be dealing with."

According to Gillespie, when people talk about racial equality issues, conservatives tend to look at problems with individuals and culture, but liberals are more likely to treat it as a systemic issue. The Black Lives Matter movement tends to view government institutions as the root causes of racism, so their protests are often aimed at fixing the system.

"The problems that face poor communities of color where we've seen a lot of violence through the years are multifaceted," Gillespie said, and it is fair to consider all aspects of the issue. The protesters currently see structural and institutional racism as the most pressing concern, though.

She said it is not unusual for opponents of black civil rights movements to bring up other problems in the community, but activists are skeptical that those people truly want to address those problems either.

"People who bring up black-on-black crime are the kind of people who aren't going to be in conversation with activists anywayThe people who make those comments are not perceived to be making them in good faith," Gillespie said.

Gillespie said the civil rights movement of the 1960s focused on narrow, targeted goals, the things that people could agree on and actually achieve. Emphasizing a specific issue increases their chances of accomplishing their goals.

According to JeffriAnne Wilder, a sociology professor at the University of North Florida, Black Lives Matter activists are unlikely to take Carson's advice because he frames the problems very differently from the way they see them.

"I think that a lot of what he's saying does have some meritUnfortunately, he's spending a lot of time in his op-ed blaming the victim," she said.

"People recognize racism as just sort of one thing," she said, but it manifests differently in different contexts. The policy solutions to issues of police reform are not the same as for education reform or the other problems Carson outlines, so the narrow focus makes sense.

When activists met with Hillary Clinton earlier this month, she emphasized the need for advocates to have concrete policies that they stand for, rather than just making an emotional appeal.

Some high-profile Black Lives Matter activists announced a slate of policy proposals last week that they call Campaign Zero, and it will likely do nothing to counter criticisms of the movement's focus on policing issues over other challenges facing their communities.

The Campaign Zero organizers do not claim to speak for the entire Black Lives Matter movement, but their proposal aligns with many of the issues protesters have raised.

All of their ideas deal directly with ending police violence:

  1. End broken window policing
  2. Increase community oversight
  3. Limit use of force
  4. Allow independent investigation and prosecution of misconduct
  5. Increase community representation in the police force
  6. Require body cameras and allow the recording of police
  7. More training on community engagement and de-escalation
  8. End for-profit policing
  9. Demilitarize police forces
  10. Negotiate fair police union contracts

Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago, described the proposals as "a very good start to the conversation."

Writing for New York Magazine, Pollack said it is a well-crafted document that includes some very smart ideas. He did recommend considering policies that recognize good police practices, address broader public safety issues in black communities, and find common ground with police on gun control.

Washington Post blogger Radley Balko wrote that the campaign represents a serious effort to solve problems that may surprise some of the movement's critics.

"Critics and police organizations have portrayed Black Lives Matter as radical, anti-police, and anti-white. But the policies Campaign Zero is pushing are none of those things. Instead, they're practical, well-thought out, and in most cases, achievable. Most will also directly benefit everyone not just black people," he said.

Wilder said Campaign Zero makes a compelling policy argument because it moves beyond social media postings and protests and seems to be rooted in research-based solutions. It increases the likelihood that the activists will be able to channel the anger in their communities into real changes.

Burke said the criticism of the movement for lacking ideas in the past was somewhat unfair because some of these policy goals had been on their website for a while. The Campaign Zero platform lines up closely with some legislation already under consideration in Congress, though.

According to Gillespie, developing the policy agenda is a healthy step for members of the movement. It shows that they want a seat at the table and demonstrates that "Black Lives matter is becoming a real social movement, that it's not just a slogan or a catchphrase."

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