WASHINGTON — Kaylin Luces found herself in a difficult position last week: In one moment, she was texting her sister, a police officer, telling her, “Be careful out there. Cops are getting shot.” In another, she sent a text to her two young nephews to be mindful of how they act when in the presence of police.
Luces’ comments to her loved ones reflect a debate over two movements that appear to be increasingly at odds with each another: Black Lives Matter, which seeks law enforcement reform after police killings of black men, and Blue Lives Matter, which defends officers.
During a recent protest over the issue, Luces, who is black, carried a sign in the nation’s capital with the message “Black and Blue Lives Matter,” a hope that perhaps the two ideas are not mutually exclusive.
But rhetoric on both sides shows how difficult that has already become: Just in the past week, a white Detroit police detective was demoted after calling Black Lives Matter activists “racists” and “terrorists.” And an off-duty police officer in Missouri fatally shot a man who was trying to enter the officer’s home. A relative of the man who was shot said the two had been arguing on Facebook about the Black Lives Matter movement.
That movement first emerged in 2012 after Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. It gathered strength in ensuing years following the deaths of other black men at the hands of police in New York, South Carolina, Baltimore, and elsewhere.
This month, police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fatally shot Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground, and Philando Castile was shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“We wonder if an African-American community that feels unfairly targeted by police and police departments that feel unfairly maligned for doing their jobs can ever understand each other’s experience,” President Barack Obama said at the funeral service for five Dallas police officers killed last week during a protest march. But “I’m here to say we must reject such despair. I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem.”
There have been some signs of conciliation between those protesting and defending the police: Before Micah Johnson opened fire in Dallas, some demonstrators were seen taking selfies with the police officers on duty. And several Black Lives Matter activists were quick to condemn the slayings in Dallas.
“They are on the same team,” said Phillip Goff, director of the Center for Policing Equity. “They want a more safe, more equal society.”
But Kelly Orians, a 30-year-old white public defender who attended a die-in protest in New Orleans, said the two movements are not — and should not be — equal.
“I don’t believe in a Blue Lives Matter movement in the same way that I don’t believe in a White Lives Matter movement or a Men’s Lives Matter movement,” she said. “Because we’re pretty clear that those lives matter and our institutions are built to protect those lives, whereas our institutions are not built … to protect black lives.”
Tracie Washington, a black civil rights lawyer in New Orleans, expressed the same frustration with the Blue Lives Matter movement, as well as with a law Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards recently signed extending hate crime status to crimes targeting police and other emergency responders.
“It tries to marginalize Black Lives Matter,” Washington said. “And it pits two equally important interests against each other that weren’t against each other.”
William Colarulo, the white police superintendent of Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, is equally opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement, which he called a “violent, hateful organization that condones violence against police.”
“They chant, ‘Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon,'” he was quoted by Philly.com as saying. “I give no credit to that organization. They tend to instigate rather than heal and find solutions to the problem.”
Comedian Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and a biracial native of South Africa, said people “shouldn’t have to choose between the police and the citizens that they are sworn to protect.”
“It always feels like in America … if you take a stand for something, you automatically are against something else. It’s such a strange world to be in,” he said last week on the show.
In an editorial published Monday in The New York Times, Brooklyn Borough President and former NYPD Captain Eric L. Adams, who is black, said police and black citizens share the concern that they may be in the line of fire.
“My solution to the tension between the police and the people — which I recognize as my own inner tension — is to seek unity, not find division,” he wrote, adding that community education and police reforms are also needed.
Neither side should stereotype the other, said Gregory Thomas, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
The Dallas shooter and others who fired at police in retaliation for the deaths of the black men are not “reflective of the vast majority of citizens who are engaged with and supportive of the law enforcement community,” Thomas said.
Likewise, he added, the police shootings are not “reflective of the professional work that members of the law enforcement community conduct dutifully every day.”
Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Richard Ross said the terms Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter should not be mutually exclusive, but he acknowledges the growing divisions between the two groups.
“It’s this either-or proposition,” said Ross, who is black. “This is where we’re stuck. … It’s gotten so far down the tracks that I’m afraid even people who want things to be resolved don’t have a loud enough voice.
JESSE J. HOLLAND
ERRIN HAINES WHACK