Black Lives Matter needs some tough love from Obama
© Getty Images

President Obama was generally applauded for his carefully balanced speech on Tuesday at the memorial service for the slain Dallas policemen. He emphasized that the "overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professional[ly]." But no institution is entirely immune from racism, the president also asserted, "and that includes our police departments." As to anti-police protesters, Obama said, "When anyone, no matter how good their intentions may be, paints all police as biased, or bigoted, we undermine those officers that we depend on for our safety."

It's unlikely that anyone thought this last comment was directed to Black Lives Matter. Obama has been a strong supporter of that movement, even though Black Lives Matter "paints" police as systemically racist.


Black Lives Matter came into existence in the wake of the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida and the acquittal of his assailant, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain. Under the hashtag banner #BlackLivesMatter, activists used social media to organize protests against police misconduct and quickly gained a widely heard voice in the national dialogue over police conduct. Last October, Obama praised the Black Lives Movement for raising awareness of police shootings of unarmed black men; in February of this year, he invited Black Lives Matter activists to the White House, calling them "much better organizers than I was when I was their age and I am confident they are going to take America to new heights."

That proposition is debatable. Black Lives Matter has attracted a variety of well-meaning supporters disturbed by the recent pattern of black deaths following encounters with white police officers. But social media-based movements like Black Lives Matter must be held accountable for what they say on social media.

The Black Lives Matter website embraces a theology of black suppression by a powerful white supremacist establishment, including the police. The organization describes itself as "an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise." The website asserts that "Black poverty and genocide is state violence"; that "2.8 million Black people are locked in cages in this country is state violence"; and that African-Americans with "disabilities and different abilities" have been burdened by "Darwinian experiments that attempt to squeeze us into boxes of normality defined by white supremacy, and that is state violence."

This is not Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It is closer to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor in Chicago, whose infamous "God damn America" forced Obama to disavow him in the 2008 presidential campaign. Obama wants to bridge what he called in Dallas the "the deepest fault lines of our democracy." Black Lives Matter's theology won't help him achieve reconciliation because it is incompatible with Obama's core assertion that the overwhelming majority of policemen are not racists.

The president needs to start a tough-love dialogue with Black Lives Matter. He should remind its leaders of the statement posted on their own website in response to anger directed at the movement after the Dallas police murders: "To assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible." Ideological blinders prevent Black Lives Matter from appreciating that the police think Black Lives Matter is doing exactly that to them. Black Lives Matter's divisive rhetoric will not bring about reconciliation, let alone police reform; it will only make matters worse. The time has come for President Obama to tell them that, because his Dallas speech did not do the job.

Wallance, a writer and lawyer in New York City, and a former federal prosecutor, is the author most recently of "America's Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR's State Department, and the Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy."