In many respects, the furor around police shootings in the United States is and will remain a uniquely American story.
Few major Western nations suffer the epidemic of gun violence that exists in the United States. Few major Western nations contend with the entrenched history of systemic racism that exists in the United States. Few major Western nations cope with the number of killings by — and of — cops that exists here.
Yet as events in recent days show, the language and politics of the Black Lives Matter movement have tremendous global echoes. Solidarity protests took place in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada.
On Sunday in London, WorldViews noted, “crowds packed Oxford Street, Brixton High Street and Westminster, holding signs that read ‘I do this for my brother’ and ‘No racist police.'”
The reasons for such sympathy across an ocean may not be readily apparent. As The Post’s London bureau chief Griff Witte observed a year ago, police in Britain had only shot two people fatally in the preceding three years.
“That’s less than the average number of people shot and killed by police every day in the United States over the first five months of 2015, according to a Washington Post analysis,” he wrote.
During the weekend, attention in the United States focused on the death of five police officers at the hands of a well-trained sniper, who had picked his targets during a Black Lives Matter protest march in Dallas last week. The brazen assault on officers of the state had followed two separate incidents where U.S. police officers fatally shot black men on incredibly dubious grounds. Protests against police shootings continued across the United States on Monday evening.
“At a moment of national suffering, politics stands largely mute,” wrote The Washington Post’s Dan Balz. “A presidential campaign that has convulsed the country for more than a year now suddenly seems small in the face of the shocks from Dallas, Louisiana and Minnesota and the racial divisions they exposed again.”
But evidently not small enough. On Sunday, former New York City mayor (and former Republican presidential candidate) Rudolph W. Giuliani infuriated many when he declared that insisting “black lives matter” — instead of, presumably, all lives — was “inherently racist” and even “anti-American.”
But, as my colleague Wesley Lowery points out with painstaking detail, that misses the point. Black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers, after you crunch the data. That’s now — never mind the centuries of systemic racial abuse that defined the American experience, and that confronted earlier generations of protesters. Black Lives Matter is an argument that sadly still needs to be made.
“Black Lives Matter is not the only political or social movement that’s given rise to this kind of faux crying foul,” writes Jeffrey Kluger, Time magazine editor-at-large, referring to Giuliani’s argument. “It’s in the howls over an imaginary war on Christmas every time a department store — accommodating the reality of America’s multi-culti, multi-faith makeup — tells its employees to wish customers a generic happy holiday, so that everyone feels included. It’s in the charges of reverse sexism when schools and community groups try to lure more girls into STEM courses and Little League.”
Those may be particularly domestic American examples, but they fall along a universal theme: a reactionary backlash to movements that highlight the marginalization and victimization of minorities and seek their greater recognition and inclusion. In a year that has seen Europe itself convulsed by the success of far-right politics and strains of narrow nationalism, that kind of reaction — to be dismissed as anti-American, anti-British, anti-European — is hardly unfamiliar.
“By these people coming here to stand and unite, they are showing that they are against police brutality and that’s the most important thing,” Maryam Ali, a lead organizer for London’s Black Lives Matter movement, told a local newspaper. She added: “I think people forget that racism is a worldwide thing. It’s still very prevalent. This is ultimately a cry for help.”
A sign at the protest, spotted by colleague Lindsey Bever, read: “Yes, all lives matter but we’re focused on the black ones right now, OK? Because it is very apparent that our judicial system doesn’t know that. Plus, if you can’t see why we’re exclaiming #blacklivesmatter you are part of the problem.”
Ever since the Black Lives Matter movement took off in the United States in the past few years, it has found support overseas. WorldViews followed this trend last year.
Activists on either side of the world began connecting. As the Ferguson protests intensified, Palestinians reached out to those on the streets of the troubled St. Louis suburb. Some even offered advice over how to deal with tear gas. (In both instances, the canisters fired by Israeli and American police were U.S.-made.) In April, Ethiopian Israelis protested police brutality in Jerusalem by reportedly chanting “Baltimore is here!”
The echoes are hard to suppress. Over the weekend, a now iconic image of a peaceful, female protester in Baton Rouge getting seized by police garnered global coverage and headlines.
“Some likened her to a modern-day Statue of Liberty, guiding a bitterly divided country back toward the proper path,” The Post’s Michael E. Miller wrote. Others likened the episode to the stoic refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat on the bus.
But, Miller wrote, it also led to comparisons of the famous “tank man” of Beijing, 1989, “facing down war machines in Tiananmen Square.”