Letter from the US: Black Lives Matter facing growing smear campaign

November 15, 2015

Film director Quentin Tarantino at #BlackLivesMatter protest in New York City on October 24.

Ever since the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement emerged on the streets to protest repeated police killings of African Americans, there has been a backlash, spearheaded by the police mutual benefit societies mislabelled labour unions.

The movement exploded across the country in the aftermath of the police killing of unarmed 18-year-old Black man Michael Brown in Ferguson last year, and has grown in strength in response to fresh examples of often lethal racist police violence.

The rallying cry of the anti-BLM backlash has been that protests of police murders of Black people leads to people killing police and a general rise in crime.

This has been expressed directly, such as in New York City early this year after a huge march of 30,000 people demanded justice over the police murder of Black man Eric Garner. Garner was strangled to death last year by a group of cops. The was scene caught on video, yet the “justice” system let Garner's killers off scot-free.

After this huge outpouring of support for justice for Garner, a deranged Black man killed two cops. He had nothing to do with the demonstration or BLM, but the police “union” held the demonstrators responsible.

Now the charge against BLM has been championed in mainstream politics, including among the Republican presidential candidates.

One such candidate is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. On the widely watched news show Face the Nation on October 25, Christie said: “The problem is this. There's lawlessness in this country. The President encourages this lawlessness. He encourages it.”

Christie was referring to mild comments President Barack Obama made to the effect that BLM has raised important questions.

When asked how Obama “encourages lawlessness”, Christie said: “Oh, by his own rhetoric. He does not support the police. He doesn't back up the police. He justifies Black Lives Matter ...”

The interviewer interrupted: “But Black Lives Matter shouldn't be justified at all?”

To which Christie said, “Listen, I don't believe that that movement should be justified when they're calling for the murder of police officers, no.”

Christie repeated his assertions during a televised debate among the Republican candidates, watched by millions. None of the other candidates repudiated Christie. The reason is that all of them are appealing to the Republican base among hardened racists.

Christie quoted comments by FBI director James Comey, who charged that the protests against police murders has fuelled a rise in violent crime because police feel under scrutiny. Comey said in a speech at the Chicago Law School that, “a chill wind has blown through American law enforcement over the last year”.

That the head of the FBI, appointed by Obama, could make such comments has emboldened the racist backlash. This is regardless of the lack of statistics or cogent arguments to back up his ridiculous and racist claims.

Now another member of Obama's administration, acting director of the Drug Enforcement Agency Chuck Rosenberg, has publicly supported Comey and the police “unions”. The New York Times said on November 5 that a “rift has widened within the Obama administration” over the issue.

The underlying message of this campaign plays into a very deep prejudice among many whites, not only open racists, that conflates Blacks, especially Black males, with crime. This justifies police murders in the minds of many whites.

Another episode in this campaign emerged after a march of thousands against police brutality in New York City on October 24. One speaker at the largely Black march was famous film director Quentin Tarantino.

In his brief remarks, Tarantino said: “If you believe there's murder going on then you need to rise up and stand up against it. I'm here to say I'm on the side of the murdered.”

The cops went berserk. The police mutual benefit societies across the country accused Tarantino of fomenting murder against police. They called for a boycott of Tarantino's new film, The Hateful Eight, to be released next month. They said they would provide no traffic directions or other normal police functions near theatres that show the movie.

Jamie Foxx, the Black star of another Tarantino film, Django Unchained, about slave resistance to slave owner brutality, came to Tarantino's defence at the Hollywood Film Awards on October 31.

Presenting an award for The Hateful Eight, Foxx addressed Tarantino, saying: “Keep telling the truth, keep speaking the truth and don't worry about none of the haters.”

It is possible that the police campaign will backfire, and increase attendance at the movie. I know I will go — which I probably would not have done before the police campaign.

The shooting of a police officer in a rural town in Illinois on September 1 was seized upon by right-wing radio as proof that BLM protests were inciting murders of police. But in a surprising turn of events, the truth demonstrated something entirely different.

The local police department discovered that the officer involved had been stealing from the police — and was on the verge of being caught. He contemplated hiring a hit man to kill the town auditor, who, he thought, was closing in on him.

Rather than face the music, the officer staged an elaborate suicide to make it look like assailants — assumed to be Black — had shot him after a traffic stop.

Local police announced the truth on November 5 — in the midst of the Tarantino affair. This was one case where the local police did their job well, to the chagrin of those blaming BLM.

Meanwhile, on October 10, officials in Cleveland released the findings of two “independent” investigations into the police murder of a 12-year-old Black boy, Tamir Rice, in November last year.

The murder was caught on video by a witness. The video showed a police car pulling up next to the boy, who was playing with a toy gun in a park. Officer Timothy Loehman got out of the car and shot the boy dead two seconds later.

The video showed the cop made no attempt to investigate the toy gun. He made no attempt to ask the boy what he was doing — there was no time. The video was shown repeatedly on national and international TV, stone cold proof of a police murder.

The local prosecutor arranged for “independent” investigations. One was conducted by a prosecutor in Colorado and the other by a former FBI agent.

Both found that the shooting, while tragic, was justified, arguing that any reasonable officer placed in the same scenario would have concluded that deadly force was needed.

Such conclusions are typical in the many cases of police murders of Blacks. The underlying assumption is that an African American, even a 12-year-old boy, is likely a criminal and dangerous, so cops have the right — nay the duty — to kill them.

The case is even more egregious given that Cleveland is in the state of Ohio, which has an “open carry” law. Under the law, it is legal to carry guns openly, as opposed to concealed. It is inconceivable that a white child or adult with a real gun would be summarily executed.

The prosecutor still has to rule whether he will charge Loehman, but given his reliance on “independent” investigations, he has disqualified himself. The Rice family blasted the “investigations”, and have demanded an independent prosecutor.

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