It’s True: Black Lives Don’t Matter


“Dear Harvard College students,” writes Dean Rakesh Khurana on December 8,

I know that my words cannot begin to express the emotions or claim the lived experiences that so many of us are feeling in the wake of the events in Ferguson and Staten Island. But there are moments when we cannot stay silent. So with great humility, I share these few thoughts.

Our nation is struggling with very serious issues around racial equality, violence, public safety, and our justice system. I was profoundly affected by the words of Professor Walton, who described the consequences of America’s criminal justice system on our most vulnerable fellow citizens in his powerful sermon on Sunday. And I have watched and listened in awe of our students, faculty, and staff who have come together to declare with passion, grace, and growing resolve that “Black Lives Matter” and to call for justice, for ally-ship, and for hope.

I can appreciate the dean’s anguish, because the battle to convince us that “black lives matter” is a monumental task, as anyone who reads the newspaper knows or listens to the news knows. Black lives really don’t matter. No one knows this better than the surviving family members of African Americans who were killed for a jacket, a pair of shoes, or no reason at all. Except maybe the blacks who kill for jackets and shoes. Or for no reason.

It used to be that when Demacio Bailey woke up in the morning, he didn’t need to look in the mirror to see what he looked like–he could simply look at his brother Demario, whose good looks were identical to his.  These teenage twins had a lot of things going for them beyond their handsome appearance: good grades at school, a family that watched over them, an older brother in college to serve as a role model. This morning, though, and every morning henceforth, when Demacio arises he’ll need that mirror, for Demario no longer exists. He was murdered walking to basketball practice with his twin.

Because black lives don’t matter.  At least, they don’t matter as much as a winter coat, which is what the four young black men who allegedly killed Demario were after when they allegedly shot him in the chest as he tried to defend his brother.

Last February Kahron Lee, a sophomore at Virginia Union University, also learned his life mattered less than his sneakers, when a black teenager shot and killed him for his Nike Air Jordans. Black lives don’t matter.

Cheerleading Coach Amy Earl had this to say about Terial’le Rawls, “She was just a ball of fire. She always had great energy, she brought the best out of everyone, and she was always willing to work hard.” Seventeen-year-old Miss Rawls’ fire was permanently extinguished when she was shot and killed this summer at an altercation in a Florida movie theater parking lot. Miss Rawls may or may not have been involved in the fracas. Police have arrested two black male teenagers as suspects in her murder. Black lives don’t matter.


12 thoughts on “It’s True: Black Lives Don’t Matter

  1. It’s important to consider the economic factors that lead to meaningless deaths such as those that you describe. While it is true that there is terrible crime and violence in low income neighborhoods of color, it is important to talk about the larger systemic causes of that crime and violence. To paint it as “black people just kill each other for no good reason” reinforces the idea that (poor) black people are inherently dangerous and menacing (therefore police are justified in using excess force against them) and if they could just get their acts together, everything would be fine. We must recognize the ways that historical racist housing policies created the segregated neighborhoods that currently exist, how our tax codes create vast disparities in the public educational opportunities available to us depending on where we live, and how disproportionate arrests of young black men are creating a culture where time in prison is an expected part of life that makes it all that much more difficult not to engage in crime after getting out.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I have no idea about the economic circumstances of the victims or (real or alleged) criminals I wrote about and wonder how you have come to possess this information. I also have no idea about where they live–or lived, in the victims’ case. And I certainly do not understand–and even if I did, I would not consider it a mitigating factor–what “racist housing policies” have to do with killing somebody over a pair of sneakers. You might be interested to know, moreover, that the average per-pupil cost in US public schools is $11,500 or thereabouts. The average per-pupil cost in Chicago (where Demario Bailey lived) is $13,433; in Sarasota, Miss Rawls’ hometown, it’s $10,315, and in Woodbridge, Virginia, where Kahron Lee grew up, the per-pupil average is $11,927. So the argument that somehow less public money is spent to educate black students is plain wrong–just look at the numbers.

      Here’s what I don’t understand most of all: if I lived a life of impoverished desperation from which I saw no way out, I’d kill myself–not somebody else.

      • Thank you for your reply. I think perhaps I have not quite grasped the point of your post. From your title and opening paragraphs, one would imagine a connection to current events in the national media, but I am not sure I understand the point you want to make as it relates to the recent deaths of various black men at the hands of white police. Could you say a bit more about your motivation for writing this post? Thank you!

      • Sure. Michael Brown, all 300 pounds of him, charged a police officer whose gun he’d already tried to wrest from the cop’s holster. Eric Garner, all 300+ pounds of him, resisted arrest, which required multiple officers to subdue him. It is difficult to see how race was a factor in either of these incidents. A 300-pound angry man is a force to be reckoned with, and I think we’d be hard-pressed to find a police officer of any color not responding to a suspect of any color, but of Brown’s and Garner’s weights, exactly as cops in these situations did.

        In any case, Brown and Garner are not poster boys for police misconduct, and they are outliers, as far as accounting for senseless deaths of African Americans. It puzzles me that the murders of young people such as Bailey, Lee, and Rawls do not inspire the same public outcry. It’s almost as if the only time a black life “matters” is when an African American is killed by a white cop. Why is that?

      • I appreciate your final question, and I too wish that the deaths of those young people received more public attention. At the same time, I don’t think that takes away from the validity of the outrage over the deaths of Brown and Garner.
        Thank you for your reply.

  2. Compassion for our fellow beings is a feeling to be lauded. Empathy for the misfortune of others a badge of honor, but trying to explain away the evil that men (and women) do, regardless of their skin pigmentation, or age by blaming those evil deeds on the unfairness of it all, the inherent racism of this group or that is, or the undeserved economic privilege of some is just as bad as those crimes.

  3. Also cutebutconfused- the number of blacks killed by the police compared to the number of blacks killed by other “youths” or “teens” is statistically zero. Oh, and Eric Garner died in police custody- he was not killed by the police. You’d think that after 40 some arrests he’s know the drill- guess not!

      • Dear Miss,
        Okay, I am back jumping in on an older post. So you may not see this, or perhaps, if you do, still not consider it relevant now. I understand the point you expressed. And I too have wondered why what is called black on black crime receives much less public concern (from whatever standpoint) than deaths that occur when a white police officer is responsible.

        As in another post I responded to, you bring up solid, provocative and important questions. Important in the sense that they are suggestive of the deeper complexity of issues we all often make simple-stupid.

        But Miss, please can you not reduce the bite a bit? Have a bit of compassion in light of history? I know most about the Oakland police during the civil rights era in California. This department like the Los Angels police department at that particular moment in history engaged in unfounded violence, resulting in at least several deaths, against members of the Black Panther Party. These are well documented and well researched and now well known incidents. And those departments also worked very hard over decades to improve in all kind of ways.

        My point simply is, at the same time that your observation is terribly relevant, in my judgment at least, there is deep hostility in many police departments toward, or at least fear of, the young black man. And in many cities or towns the hostility goes two ways. And aside from the specific cases you mentioned, a coldness or indifference can build up slowly over years in an officer on the field where bad, unrighteous, wrong conduct is the result.

        I personally do not like the tactics of “Black lives matter.” I do not like the inflamed rhetoric and the spewing of hate that it says it fights. But at the same time, as a thoughtful academic, please try to sense the desperation felt in many communities where the police truly seem an enemy willing to do anything to you and have (though we can argue specific cases) wrongfully killed (by police rules) a “suspect” or gone mad in the use of power. I myself as a hippie child in the 60s was once thrown in a police car in an officer’s attempt to rape me (at about 14).
        That was one man. Not “the police.” But til this day, I, an highly educated, rather old fashioned, retired professor of law,
        am terribly afraid of the police and move as far away from them in fear whenever I see them.

        Just . . .both sides, yes? Always two sides . . .

        Best truly

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