- REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
US President Barack Obama has a message for critics of the “Black Lives Matter” movement: You’re missing the point.
Toward the end of a public White House discussion about criminal-justice reform, Obama took a moment to push back against detractors who claim that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” – originally coined in reaction to police violence against unarmed African-Americans – discounts the lives of white police officers.
“I think the reason that the organizers use the phrase ‘black lives matter’ was not because they were suggesting that no one else’s lives matter,” Obama said. “Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that isn’t happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we have to address. The African-American community is not just making this up. It’s not just something being politicized. This is real.”
The Black Lives Matter movement, which gained steam following the killing of an unarmed 17-year-old black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, has sought to bring attention to racial bias in the criminal-justice system and the disproportionate number of black individuals killed by police.
Critics claim that Black Lives Matter protesters unfairly target the police and omit discussions about the values of other lives.
But Thursday, Obama called that argument “an old trap.”
Black Lives Matter protesters “started being lifted up as, ‘These folks are opposed to the police, they are opposed to cops, all lives matter,'” Obama said.
“So the notion was that somehow saying ‘black lives matter’ was reverse racism or something. And whenever we get bogged down in that kind of discussion, we know where that goes. That’s just down the old trap,” he added. “Everyone understands that all lives matter. Everybody wants strong, effective law enforcement. Everybody wants their kids to be safe when they’re walking to school.”
The phrase “black lives matter” has already become a major focus of the 2016 campaign.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have dismissed the phrase, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – all Republicans – said that civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been appalled by the phrase.
“When I hear people scream, ‘black lives matter,’ I think, of course they do. But all lives matter. It’s not that any life matters more than another,” Huckabee said. “That’s the whole message that Dr. King tried to present, and I think he’d be appalled by the notion that we’re elevating some lives above others.”
Democrats, after getting off to a somewhat rocky start with protesters who interrupted several 2016 campaign events, have attempted to mend fences with the movement.
Notable members of the Black Lives Matter movement, which remains officially leaderless, have met with several presidential candidates, including former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who have embraced the phrase and called for criminal-justice reform efforts.