Black and Blue
Much like many other people in our country, I went to bed angry last night. Angry about three days of violence. Angry about Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the five law enforcement officers who lost their lives over the past three days for reasons still hard to understand.
This morning, I woke up even angrier. I woke up to the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” spread across my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I woke up to Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick calling protestors who ran from sniper fire “hypocrites” for expecting police protection.
I want to be clear: Police officers have, hands down, one of the hardest and dangerous jobs a person can have. I am grateful, every single day, that if someone was breaking into my car, or if someone was attacking me, I could call someone who put their life on the line to protect me. But to view the Black Lives Matter movement as an affront to law enforcement is misleading, at best, and horrifically irresponsible, at worst.
The Black Lives Matter movement is not an affront to the imperative role police officers have. The Black Lives Matter movement does not minimize the fact that police officers risk their lives every day. As President Obama pointed out, saying Black lives matter does not mean that Blue lives don’t matter. The Black Lives Matter movement is not “anti-police.” It’s anti-police unjustifiably murdering its citizens. The movement isn’t angry at police, generally. The movement is angry about increasing rates of state sponsored violence affecting the most vulnerable factions in society.
As public defenders and those who work closely with public defenders, we are more than aware that our client’s voices, almost all of the time, do not matter. Their voices and their stories do not matter to most judges, they do not matter to many jurors, and they do not matter to many prosecutors. This is because our clients our poor. Many of them are racial minorities. They have done “bad” things. They are the outcasts. Their voices have never mattered.
This is why the cry of “Blue Lives Matter,” and Dan Patrick’s statements are so infuriating: Because we already know that Blue Lives matter. They have always mattered. In most jurisdictions, crimes committed against law enforcement officers garner harsher sentences. Police officers are routinely less likely to be indicted than their non-police officer counterparts. Just recently, Louisiana Governor Jon Edwards passed a Blue Lives Matter bill.
But we don’t need to look at history to know that Blue lives matter. Just look at the past few days. Alton Sterling was shot, on video, by two police officers who are currently being paid pending investigation. While those officers are on paid adminstrative leave, less than 24 hours after the Dallas Shooting, Representative David Steffen of Wisconsis already plans on introducing legislation to make it a hate crime to target law enforcement officers. The attack on law enforcement garnered an immediate response from President Obama. Meanwhile, the police killed more than 100 unarmed black people last year, and almost all of them went without comment.
What happened in Dallas is inexcusable, horrific, and terrifying. But what happened in Dallas does not change the fact that people of color are routinely targeted by law enforcement on a daily basis. It does not change the fact that unarmed black men are murdered by law enforcement officers at an increasing pace. Until those problems are solved, the Black Lives Matter movement is desperately needed.
So, why this rant directed toward public defenders, opinions which I’m sure many of you share?
Because as public defenders, you are uniquely situated. You deal with the voices of those who society says don’t matter (your clients) and police officers every single day. You have the ability to make your client’s voices heard. In fact, you are the only ones who can make your client’s voices heard. You are the only ones on their team.
Like the Black Lives Matter movement, your job is to make your client’s voices heard. To make them matter. Without you, they have no voice.
So be angry. Be sad. But don’t give up. Don’t be disheartened. You and you alone are the lifeboats for your clients.
Make their voices heard.