Last week, a man tried to convince me that he believes black lives matter.
This is a kind of rhetorical judo some anti-abortion activists have adopted in debating pro-choice African Americans. They argue that black women have abortions at higher rates than others and that this amounts to a “genocide” or a “holocaust” — yes, they often use those words — that black people are morally bound to resist. Because black lives matter.
As I told the guy who tried that argument with me last week on Twitter, that’s disingenuous: “If you are as concerned for black life as you purport, may I assume you have been equally exercised over, say, ongoing police violence against unarmed African-American men and women?”
Predictably, he answered the question with some variant of “all lives matter.” Or in other words, No.
In itself, the debate was not particularly important, but the timing felt poignant. It came at roughly the same time news broke of a 2014 text message exchange between New York Police Lt. Christopher Bannon and Sgt. Dhanan Saminath, who had just been involved in an altercation with a black man named Eric Garner. Saminath texted that Garner had no pulse and was probably dead.
“Not a big deal,” answered Bannon. “We were effecting a lawful arrest.”
Garner, you will recall, verbally resisted when police attempted to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on the street. Whereupon they tackled him to the ground and Officer Daniel Pantaleo administered a chokehold. Eleven times, Garner, a 350-pound asthmatic, complained that they were killing him.
“I can’t breathe,” he gasped.
“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe…”
“Not a big deal.”
Bannon testified last week in a police disciplinary hearing that he only meant to reassure Pantaleo (whom a grand jury declined to indict) but that explanation does little to erase the stench of his words. This was not reassurance. It was a verdict on Eric Garner’s worth.
One is reminded of the 2015 shooting of Eric Harris, a black man in Tulsa who ran after allegedly selling an illegal gun to an undercover cop. As officers were subduing Harris on the ground, a 73-year-old reserve deputy — who said he meant to reach for his Taser — pulled his gun and fired. “He shot me!” cried Harris. “Oh, my God!”
He told them he was losing his breath. “F–k your breath,” replied a deputy. Harris died.
The Tulsa deputy and the New York lieutenant emblematize a disregard African Americans know all too well, a disregard echoed in the acquittal of George Zimmerman and the conviction of the Central Park Five, in the damaged spine of Freddie Gray and the bullet-torn body of Tamir Rice. Nor is that disregard just about policing.
It is also about education and journalism, health and sports, banking and essentially every endeavor where human judgment plays a part because where there’s judgment, there is usually disregard for black lives. That disregard indicts, generally, America’s dream of itself as a land of equality and, specifically, the hypocrisy of anti-abortion activists shedding crocodile tears and crying “genocide” or “holocaust.”
Can’t they, at a minimum, spare us that? Can’t they make their case without pretending to be motivated by moist-eyed concern for black lives? More than disingenuous, that’s cynical and offensive. It insults African American intelligence because it asks that we forget or ignore that history of disregard. And that is not an option. Because for us, you see, black lives do matter.
Even after they are born.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.
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