Even as racial justice advocates simultaneously mourned the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five police officers killed Thursday night in Dallas, they were forced to defend the nature and aims of their movement while fearing that the violence they seek to quell will only get worse.
That the shootings took place toward the tail end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest immediately muddied the narrative, leading some pundits and politicians to pin blame for the attack on the national movement against police violence as opposed to the individual gunman, who told police before he died that he had operated alone and was unaffiliated with any groups.
Critics pointed out that in addition to explicitly drawing connections between the shooter and Black Lives Matter, the media and others were implicitly vilifying the movement and deepening existing divides. And as journalist Lauren Chanel Allen wrote on Twitter and at her blog, the attacks had the effect of shifting the conversation "quickly and perfectly" so that "[w]e were no longer talking about the heinous murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile."
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) network released a statement Friday morning condemning the shootings in Dallas, calling the violence "a tragedy–both for those who have been impacted by yesterday's attack and for our democracy."
(Responding to BLM's words, EBONY Magazine's senior editor Jamilah Lemieux noted: "This sort of humanity is not often seen when a police officer has needlessly taken the life of a civilian; in fact, police message boards have found chilling expressions to the contrary over and over again.")
The BLM statement continued:
There are some who would use these events to stifle a movement for change and quicken the demise of a vibrant discourse on the human rights of Black Americans. We should reject all of this.
Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it. Yesterday's attack was the result of the actions of a lone gunman. To assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible.
Indeed, as the ACLU of Texas said in its response to the shootings, "If the night had gone as the protesters and police planned, this would have been a demonstration of what makes our country great: a citizenry publicly proclaiming their objection to government wrongs, and public officials protecting the citizenry's constitutional right to air their anger and disapproval. Tragically, this quintessential example of democracy was ripped apart, and the nation awoke today to learn of more shootings and more deaths."
But organizers, activists, and supporters of the movement refuse to allow Thursday's attack on law enforcement tamp down or distract from serious and necessary debates over police brutality, racism, and gun violence.
Lilly Workneh, Black Voices senior editor at the Huffington Post, said:
Just because BLM denounces police killings of black people doesn’t mean members of the movement don’t care about the unjust death of police. You can (and should) care about black lives and care about cops at the same time.
Let’s be clear: Black Lives Matter is an organization that spreads love, not hate ― and it condemns violence altogether. We should focus our energy on remembering those who have lost their lives to gun violence, both this week and every other. We must destroy vicious ideology that claims the Dallas shooting promotes a “race war” in any way. We must not compromise the integrity of a movement that deserves respect. We must figure out how to use our anger as fuel and identify actionable ways to bring about peace in a world where chaos seems to dominate. We must stand together in solidarity, even (and especially) as we mourn, to help spread unity and bring about peace.
Kai Wright, features editor for The Nation, added:
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Here’s the thing: The world is often more complicated than our political discourse accommodates. We are rarely allowed to use the word and in our politics, but it is surely useful this morning. We can and must condemn and organize against violence in all its forms—both violence against public servants and violence that public servants direct at us; acts of terrorism and state-sanctioned acts of war; hate crimes directed at a community of people and personal disputes that turn deadly due to the omnipresence of guns. What unifies all of this death is the grim reality that America is a horribly violent place. And if Dallas changes anything about the movement for black lives, it is only to remind us that in order to truly ensure black lives are valued, we will have to confront the broader culture of violence that has long gripped this nation.
Meanwhile, during an emotional press conference on Friday morning, members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) were also asked to clarify their support for the BLM movement in the wake of the Dallas shooting. They did so passionately.
"People cannot use Black Lives Matter as a scapegoat. Those young kids came together to protest," said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.).
"If someone goes in a building and assassinates five police officers, they are a terrorist, they are not part of Black Lives Matter," declared CBC chairman George Butterfield (D-N.C.).
"America should know those protests were non-violent. They were crying out in pain," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).
The CBC instead directed its ire at House Speaker Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues, whom Butterfield charged with "refusing to address gun violence in America."
Indeed, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) declared: "The speaker of the House has to be called on the carpet for what he's failed to do."
The CBC vowed to continue pushing for commonsense gun reform legislation before Congress leaves on its summer break—a call echoed by the Coalition to Stop Violence, whose executive director Josh Horwitz said Friday:
The tragedy in Dallas comes as we all continue to struggle to understand the circumstances that led to Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota being shot by police.
Everyday we struggle to understand how elected officials idly sit by as 90 more Americans are killed with guns.
There is one thing that I am not struggling with today, however. One thing that I know for sure and that is this: The ubiquitous presence of firearms in our society, brought to us by the NRA, is a disaster.
Reaction to the Dallas attack continues to percolate on social media: