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Juan Williams: #BlackLivesMatter is playing with fire

#BlackLivesMatter is fast becoming its own worst enemy.

It lacks an agenda, it is antagonizing the black community’s top white political allies, including Democrats running for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, and it is not finding common ground with any of the Republican majority in Congress.

The catalyst for the movement was outrage over the deaths of young black men like Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police officers who arguably used excessive, even deadly force. But where is the list of solutions to the injustices it so often decries?

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The movement’s failure to get its collective act together carries real danger for the political clout of the African-American community in the 2016 elections and beyond.

With the movement potentially discouraging black American trust in Democrats, #BlackLivesMatter is increasing the odds of a sharp drop in black voter turnout in 2016. Already Democrats privately worry that without President Obama on the ballot, the black vote will decrease the turnout needed to keep the White House and win back the Senate.

That is more likely to happen if black voters get caught up in the anger that the BlackLives movement has directed at the political structure. The potential absence of black voters who have become discouraged — about a quarter of the nation’s Democrats — would be more devastating than any Republican plan to require voter identification, reduce the number of polling places in black neighborhoods or cut back on early voting.

When BlackLives activists denounce the Democratic National Committee for issuing a resolution in support of police reform, they are hurting themselves with party officials. When they say that all political parties try to “control or contain” black liberation, they are also damaging faith in the political system, especially among young people.

When they interrupt Democrats running for the presidential nomination, such as Bernie SandersBernie SandersFormer Gillibrand aide wins NY House primary Sanders-backed candidate wins NY House primary The Trail 2016: 11 hours, 800 pages, 0 changed minds MORE and Martin O’Malley, they are alienating longtime political allies and their supporters. When they videotape Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonAmbassador's sister: I don't blame Clinton for Benghazi Clinton to Trump supporters: 'Don’t look for easy answers' Seven key findings in the Benghazi report MORE after she generously agrees to meet with them privately — in an apparent attempt to embarrass her — they are distancing themselves from the likely Democratic nominee. And imagine how local and state officials will react now to any request for a meeting with the group.

Meanwhile, they are not finding common cause with Latinos, even as immigrants are being attacked by the Republican candidates for the presidential election. Have you seen BlackLives interrupting Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSanders-backed candidate wins NY House primary Ambassador's sister: I don't blame Clinton for Benghazi Clinton to Trump supporters: 'Don’t look for easy answers' MORE’s events? Where is the outreach to Republicans?

Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulTrump hires Rand Paul's former digital director: report Trump flexes new digital muscle Republicans question Trump's trip to Scotland MORE (R-Ky.) is one the most outspoken leaders in either political party on the racial inequities of prison reform. “I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed,” he said in his announcement speech. If change is the goal, where is the alliance with the senator?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has declared on the campaign trail that “the war on drugs has been a failure.” He told an audience last month “everyone makes mistakes” and that society needs to “reach out” and “embrace those people and say, ‘If you’re not a violent offender, if you’re not dealing drugs to our children, we need to get you treatment rather than prison.’ ”

Earlier this year, the Brennan Center for Law and Justice published a collection of essays highlighting the bipartisan consensus among national politicians that there is a need for sentencing reform, called Solutions: American Leaders speak out on Criminal Justice. Clinton, O’Malley, Paul, Christie and fellow presidential candidates Jim Webb, Ted CruzTed CruzCruz-backed candidate wins GOP primary in Colorado Trump hires Rand Paul's former digital director: report Trump camp slating major sports figures for convention: report MORE, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker and Marco RubioMarco RubioPoll: Rubio, Murphy neck-and-neck in Florida Senate race Overnight Healthcare: Blame game over Zika funding The Trail 2016: 11 hours, 800 pages, 0 changed minds MORE each penned essays for the Brennan Center on the need for reform.

And it’s not just those running for the Oval Office — leading congressional Republicans like Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility If 'bipartisanship' is now a dirty word, how about a rebranding? MORE (R-Ohio), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyPollster: Clinton leads in 5 battlegrounds Overnight Tech: Judiciary leaders question internet transition plan | Clinton to talk tech policy | Snowden's robot | Trump's big digital push Dozens of senators push EPA for higher ethanol mandate MORE (R-Iowa) and Tea Party favorite Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Senate Democrats block Zika agreement ahead of recess GOP senator pushes Trump to adopt 'constitutional agenda' MORE (R-Utah) have all endorsed proposals to relax the federal sentencing laws. Grassley has said he wants to move on a bill this year to do just that.

A bipartisan bill, the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act authored by Republican Rep. Jim SensenbrennerJames SensenbrennerFor suburban women, addiction is a key election issue Dems amp up charges of voter suppression in Wisconsin Top Republican warns of discrimination at the polls in November MORE of Wisconsin and Democratic Rep. Bobby ScottBobby ScottLawmakers fighting for stronger protections for older workers Dems to Obama: End citizenship rule for education programs Advocates: School meal budgets could lose millions under GOP plan MORE of Virginia, has about three-dozen bipartisan co-sponsors in the House already. If #BlackLivesMatter protesters were chanting “Pass the SAFE Justice Act now!” they could find themselves in position to make significant change. Somehow they are blind to the opportunity.

It has been said that politicians see the light once they feel the heat. If only the energy and passion of #BlackLivesMatter protesters could be harnessed in something constructive rather than destructive.

Lobby Congress, hold voter registration drives, quiz candidates on their plan for sentencing reform, but don’t heckle the candidates and incite violence by calling for cop-killing. The movement could be critical to securing and mobilizing black support for criminal justice reform that actually would improve black lives.

I am reminded of something my father, who trained boxers, once told me.

He said even the best fighters know fear is like fire. It can cook your food and light your home. It can also burn your house down and kill you. The key to controlling fear or fire is turning it to a constructive purpose. 

Now if only #BlackLivesMatter will harness its own fire into the urgent cause of criminal justice reform.

 

Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.