How Much Does Black Lives Matter Matter?

Black Lives Matter no longer makes the headlines as often these days, crowded off the front page in part by the media’s wall-to-wall coverage of protests of the new administration. But BLM remains a controversial group that provokes strong opinions to say the least. The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder newspaper, the state’s oldest black-owned business, has responded to criticism the controversial group is “weakening policing, especially in high crime neighborhoods.”crime-scene

In a newly published pair of articles, the paper reached out to a local member of Black Lives Matter to explain and defend the group’s methods. Reporter Charles Hallman also interviewed American Experiment’s Kathy Kersten, a strong BLM critic. Her August 2016 column titled “Police, race and crime: ‘Cops are racist’ story line ignores a great many facts” was one of the most widely read Star Tribune stories of the year.

Kersten stated that this narrative has resulted in bad policies that have hurt rather than help Blacks. The MSR asked her in a phone interview why she is so critical of BLM.

The name itself is “puzzling,” she responded. “If their concern really is that Black lives matter, and [they] want to save lives, they would look at the primary danger to Black lives and try to address that — Black-on-Black homicide. Homicide is the great killer of Black males under the age of 45,” said Kersten. “And 90 percent of those murders are carried out by other African Americans.”

Although she has not, like some others, publicly called BLM “terrorists,” Kersten nonetheless has made clear her strong disagreement with the organization and others who participated in the Fourth Precinct occupation in the aftermath of the Jamar Clark shooting in November 2015.

In the interview Kersten also criticized city policies that undercut the police’s ability to protect law-abiding citizens on the North Side. Evidently Kersten has struck a chord. In his companion column, Hallman asked  Minneapolis BLM member Lena Gardner about the concerns raised in Kersten’s Star Tribune piece.

When asked to comment on Katherine Kersten of The Center of the American Experiment’s last August commentary on BLM, Gardner noted that she didn’t take it too seriously after reading it, but flatly denied that she and BLM are anti-police.

“We are pro-Black people, pro-Black life and the sanctity of Black life. To cast us in that light [against the police], when people say that, that lets me know two things: one, they don’t understand what we are about, and [two] that they don’t fully understand that there is something wrong with the police… We know as a society, we know that police don’t harass [Whites] in the same way they do Black people.”

In response to the “Black-on-Black crime” reference that Kersten and others often use: “It came from White folk and not out of the Black community. We know that it is not unique to Black culture — all races commit crimes against each other. That tendency is intensified when you are struggling for education and jobs and health care.

At the same time, Gardner acknowledged there’s a difference of opinion on BLM within the black community.

Gardner added that criticism of BLM, especially from some Black folk, concerns her as well: “Yes, sometimes it bothers me and sometimes it hurts. There are way too many Black folk in the community that haven’t reached out to us and found out what we are really about. They are trusting the word of this White media, who almost always get it wrong rather than getting to know us.”

Calling BLM “a terrorist group” is flatly wrong, she said. Such arguments only “illegalize what we are doing and [are] mislabeling to keep us from what we are doing,” stressed Gardner. “Terrorists take life and do not value life. They are inherently not calling for a de-escalation of policing or stopping it. Since the inception of the Black Lives Matter network there only has been a call to end ‘in-state’ violence, and we remain committed to that cause.”

Could this be the modest start of a more candid conversation about inner city violence and how to better protect vulnerable families who live there?