Why understanding the Black Lives Matter movement is so important
© Greg Nash

I never experienced segregated schools.

I have never been denied the right to vote.

I have never been stopped and frisked.

I have never had the "discussion" with my children about how to act if stopped by a police officer. My father never had that discussion with me either.

I have never been questioned by a police officer when I have visited Black neighborhoods.

I have never been judged differently by my peers because of my skin color.

I have never experienced the devastating impacts of implicit bias in school or in my career.

When the 20 children and six educators were murdered in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, where I live, the national and international media flooded my town for months. When 26 people are murdered in Chicago on a summer night, it is a footnote in the national news.


As a result, I cannot discount the Black Lives Matter movement by simply saying "all lives matter." That would not do justice to the struggle of my black friends, colleagues and all black Americans. I simply do not know what it is like to be a black man in the United States of America. But, change will come only if all Americans try to understand what is driving the Black Lives Matter movement and then work together to combat racism wherever it exists and promote dignity, justice and respect for everyone.

My ancestors suffered the worst kind of racism as a result of politics of hatred and ignorance during the Holocaust. I grew up knowing survivors, including my mother and grandparents, and the refrain "never again" was ingrained in me. That is why what is occurring in America today keeps me up at night and frightens me. We live in a country swimming in hateful rhetoric, guns and years of institutionalized racism. This toxic mix is now boiling over in the streets of our communities from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Minnesota to Dallas. And it won't end there unless and until all Americans stand up and speak out. That is why trying to understand the Black Lives Matter movement is so important.

To be clear, however, violence against police officers will not solve anything. Indeed, the Black Lives Matter movement has condemned the attacks on the police officers in Dallas, calling it a "tragedy — both for those who have been impacted by yesterday's attack and for our democracy." The movement must be vigilant to make sure its rhetoric does not encourage violence against police officers, and to denounce it when others do so. The overwhelming majority of police officers are good people who defend our freedoms.

The Black Lives Matter movement should be considered by all Americans as a recognition and a challenge. We should recognize the effects of hundreds of years of discrimination. We should challenge our government, our institutions, our police forces, our criminal justice system, our corporations, and our schools and universities to constantly examine their policies to promote diversity and inclusion, to call out discrimination and reduce implicit bias. Implicit bias training must be part of police training. The U.S. Justice Department recently announced that more than 33,000 federal agents and prosecutors will receive training aimed at preventing unconscious bias from influencing their law enforcement decisions. That effort should be expanded.

In addition, we must solve our gun violence problem. If we continue to allow criminals and other dangerous people to easily purchase firearms, we are putting law enforcement in harm's way and creating untenable situations for well-intentioned police officers. All of this will take time. But unless we start right now, the events of this past week will become more and more routine, and our democracy based on the rule of law will erode.

During the civil rights movement, white students joined the Freedom Rides, marched on Washington, spoke out against injustice and locked arms with black men and women to demand change. In these troubling times, each of us should think about how we can effect change in all of our communities and work to make it happen. It is time to speak out against politics of hatred and policies that divide us. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."

Frank is president of the Connecticut Bar Association and president of the New England Bar Association. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @montefrank1.