5 Common Misconceptions About Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter protesters
Black Lives Matter protesters at a Los Angeles rally on July 12, 2016. Nadra Nittle

The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police during his May 25, 2020, arrest resulted in unprecedented support of the Black Lives Matter movement. An eight-minute video captured white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of African American Floyd, despite cries from bystanders and from Floyd himself to stop. The 46-year-old ultimately died of asphyxiation, setting off a wave of international protests calling for change.

While more Americans than ever now support Black Lives Matter, that has not always been the case. In fact, smear campaigns and misconceptions about the movement have abounded, and the killing of George Floyd hasn't erased common criticisms and misinformation about the group.

All Lives Matter

The top concern critics of Black Lives Matter say they have about the group (actually a collective of organizations with no governing body) is its name. Take Rudy Giuliani. “They sing rap songs about killing police officers and they talk about killing police officers and yell it out at their rallies,” he told CBS News. “And when you say Black lives matter, that’s inherently racist. Black lives matter, white lives matter, Asian lives matter, Hispanic lives matter—that’s anti-American and it’s racist.”

Racism is the belief that one group is inherently superior to another and the institutions that function as such. The Black Lives Matter movement is not saying that all lives don’t matter or that other people’s lives aren’t as valuable as African Americans’ lives. It is arguing that because of systemic racism (dating back to the implementation of the Black Codes during Reconstruction), Blacks disproportionately have deadly encounters with police, and the public needs to care about the lives lost.

During an appearance on “The Daily Show,” Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson called the focus on “all lives matter” a distraction technique. He likened it to someone criticizing a breast cancer rally for not focusing on colon cancer as well.

“We’re not saying colon cancer doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’re not saying other lives don’t matter. What we are saying is there is something unique about the trauma that Black people have experienced in this country, especially around policing, and we need to call that out.”

Giuliani’s accusation that Black Lives Matter activists sing about killing the police is unfounded. He’s conflated rap groups from decades ago, such as Ice-T’s band Body Count of “Cop Killer” fame, with the Black activists of today. Giuliani told CBS that, of course, Black lives matter to him, but his remarks suggest he can’t be bothered to tell one group of Blacks from another. Whether rappers, gang members, or civil rights activists are the topic at hand, they’re all interchangeable because they’re Black. This ideology is rooted in racism. While whites get to be individuals, Blacks and other people of color are one and the same in a white supremacist framework.

The accusation that Black Lives Matter is racist also overlooks the fact that people from a broad coalition of racial groups, including Asian Americans, Latinos, and whites, are among its supporters. In addition, the group decries police violence, whether the officers involved are white or people of color. When Baltimore man Freddie Gray died in police custody in 2015, Black Lives Matter demanded justice, even though most of the officers involved were African American.

People of Color Aren’t Racially Profiled

Detractors of the Black Lives Matter movement argue that police do not single out African Americans, ignoring mountains of research that indicate racial profiling is a significant concern in communities of color. These critics assert that police have a greater presence in Black neighborhoods because Black people commit more crimes.

On the contrary, police disproportionately target Blacks, which doesn’t mean African Americans break the law any more often than whites do. The New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program is a case in point. Several civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the NYPD in 2012, alleging that the program was racially discriminatory. Eighty-seven percent of the individuals the NYPD targeted for stop and frisks were young Black and Latino men, a greater proportion than they made up of the population. Police even targeted Blacks and Latinos for most of the stops in areas where people of color made up 14% or less of the population, indicating the authorities weren’t drawn to a particular neighborhood but to residents of a particular skin tone.

Ninety percent of people the NYPD stopped anywhere did nothing wrong. Although police were more likely to find weapons on whites than they were on people of color, that didn’t result in the authorities stepping up their random searches of whites.

Racial disparities in policing can be found on the West Coast as well. In California, Blacks comprise 6% of the population but 17% of people arrested and about a quarter of those who die in police custody, according to the OpenJustice data portal launched by former Attorney General Kamala Harris in 2015.

Collectively, the disproportionate amount of Blacks stopped, arrested, and who die in police custody explains why the Black Lives Matter movement exists and why the focus isn’t on all lives.

Activists Don’t Care About Black-on-Black Crime

Conservatives love to argue that African Americans only care when police kill Black people and not when Black people kill each other. For one, the idea of Black-on-Black crime is a fallacy. Just as Blacks are more likely to be killed by fellow Blacks, whites are more likely to be killed by other whites. That’s because people tend to be killed by those close to them or who live in their communities.

That said, African Americans, particularly pastors, reformed gang members, and community activists, have long worked to end gang violence in their neighborhoods. In Chicago, the Rev. Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church has fought against gang violence and police killings alike. In 2012, former Blood member Shanduke McPhatter formed the New York nonprofit Gangsta Making Astronomical Community Changes. Even gangster rappers have taken part in the effort to stop gang violence, with N.W.A members, Ice-T, and several others teaming up in 1990 as the West Coast Rap All-Stars for the single “We’re All in the Same Gang.”

The idea that Blacks don’t care about gang violence in their communities is meritless, given that anti-gang efforts date back decades and the African Americans trying to stop such violence are too numerous to name. Pastor Bryan Loritts of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in California aptly explained to a Twitter user why gang violence and police brutality are received differently. “I expect criminals to act like criminals,” he said. “I don't expect those who are to protect us to kill us. Not the same.”

Black Lives Matter Inspired Dallas Police Shootings

The most defamatory and irresponsible critique of Black Lives Matter is that it provoked Dallas shooter Micah Johnson to kill five police officers in 2016.

“I do blame people on social media...for their hatred towards police,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said. “I do blame former Black Lives Matter protests.”

He added that law-abiding citizens with "big mouths" led to the killings. The month before, Patrick summed up the mass murder of 49 people at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, as “reaping what you sow,” revealing himself to be a bigot, so it’s not entirely surprising that he would choose to use the Dallas tragedy to accuse Black Lives Matter activists as being accomplices to murder. But Patrick knew nothing about the killer, his mental health, or anything else in his history that led him to commit such a heinous crime, and the politician willfully overlooked the fact that the killer acted alone and was not part of Black Lives Matter.

Generations of African Americans have been angry about police killings and racism generally in the criminal justice system. Years before Black Lives Matter existed, police had a strained relationship with communities of color. The movement didn’t create this anger, nor should it be blamed for the actions of one deeply troubled man.

"Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it," Black Lives Matter said in a 2016 statement about the Dallas killings. “Yesterday’s attack was the result of the actions of a lone gunman. To assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible.”

Police Shootings Are the Only Problem

While police shootings are the focus of Black Lives Matter, deadly force isn’t the only issue adversely affecting African Americans. Racial discrimination infiltrates every facet of American life, including education, employment, housing, and medicine, in addition to the criminal justice system.

While police killings are a pressing concern, most Black people won’t die at the hands of a cop, but they may face barriers in a variety of sectors. Whether the topic at hand is the disproportionate amount of Black youth suspended from school or Black patients of all income levels receiving poorer medical care than their white counterparts, Black lives matter in these instances as well. The focus on police killings may lead everyday Americans to think they’re not part of the nation’s race problem. The opposite is true.

Police officers don’t exist in a vacuum. The implicit or explicit bias that reveals itself when they deal with Black people stems from cultural norms that signal it’s OK to treat Blacks as if they’re inferior. Black Lives Matter argues that African Americans are equal to everyone else in this country and institutions that don’t operate as such should be held accountable.

View Article Sources
  1. "Stop and Frisk and the Urgent Need for Meaningful Reforms." Office of the Public Advocate for the City of New York, May 2013.

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Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "5 Common Misconceptions About Black Lives Matter." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/common-misconceptions-about-black-lives-matter-4062262. Nittle, Nadra Kareem. (2021, July 31). 5 Common Misconceptions About Black Lives Matter. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/common-misconceptions-about-black-lives-matter-4062262 Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "5 Common Misconceptions About Black Lives Matter." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/common-misconceptions-about-black-lives-matter-4062262 (accessed March 20, 2023).