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 SandersSanders tangles with Trump’s Education pick over college costs Senators introduce dueling miners bills Overnight Finance: Price puts stock trading law in spotlight | Lingering questions on Trump biz plan | Sanders, Education pick tangle over college costs MORE and Martin O’Malley, they are alienating longtime political allies and their supporters. When they videotape Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump puts pressure on GOP Congress Poll: Former Sanders staffer gains steam in race to replace Xavier Becerra Michael Moore: Trump will ‘absolutely’ ban Muslims 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 TrumpTrump Education pick: States should decide on allowing guns in schools Senate Finance panel to hold Price hearing next week Trump lands in DC for pre-inaugural dinner MORE’s events? Where is the outreach to Republicans?

Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulGOP senators introducing ObamaCare replacement Monday Sanders, Dems defend ObamaCare at Michigan rally Paul: Medicaid expansion 'the big question' 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 CruzGraham, Cruz proposal to defund the U.N. is misguided Right renews push for term limits as Trump takes power Dissenting nominees give hope to GOP skeptics of Trump MORE, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker and Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio wades into Trump-Lewis feud 19 companies that Trump has tweeted about Ex-Dem gov: I would have picked Giuliani over Tillerson 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 BoehnerAn anti-government ideologue like Mulvaney shouldn't run OMB Boehner endorses DeVos for Education secretary Trump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' MORE (R-Ohio), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyJeff Sessions will protect life Justice, FBI to be investigated over Clinton probes Pence meets with Kaine, Manchin amid Capitol Hill visit MORE (R-Iowa) and Tea Party favorite Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeRight renews push for term limits as Trump takes power Conservatives press Trump on Supreme Court pick Overnight Finance: Ethics chief blasts Trump business plan | Senate begins late-night marathon vote | Lawmakers look to rein in Trump on trade 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 SensenbrennerHouse group seeks alternatives on encryption fight Congress should learn from states on civil asset forfeiture GOP rep presses Trump to meet with Dalai Lama MORE of Wisconsin and Democratic Rep. Bobby ScottBobby ScottThe Hill's 12:30 Report House Dems may challenge Electoral College certification Dems press Trump to keep Obama overtime rule 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.