Black Lives Matter (the organization) has put itself in a very precarious situation. Until this point, BLM has been able to simultaneously hold up certain individuals on a pedestal as victims, while not having to put them out in front of a camera. These names include Michael Brown and Breonna Taylor. Both of these individuals are part of the “Say Their Names” movement; and since they were both killed in police altercations, BLM had the ability to use them to further their cause while not having to put them in the public eye, as neither one had a stellar reputation if you do not include the final moments of their lives.
Based on current evidence available, Brown was at the very least a thief, and possibly worse than that. His fingerprints were over the officer’s gun and clothes, and all available evidence showed that Brown was physically violent with the officer. Brown was never standing with his hands raised yelling, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as was initially reported. The fact that Brown is no longer with us allows BLM to claim his victimhood without needing to put him in front of cameras.
Taylor was reported as having been an unfortunate victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when she was fatally shot by police. During a no-knock warrant, police engaged in a shootout with Taylor’s boyfriend, who was being investigated as a drug dealer. Taylor was asleep at the time and was killed by a police bullet. However, there are now reports that Taylor was part of the investigation, as well. While she may have been an innocent bystander during the shootout, once again, BLM is able to claim her as a victim for their cause while not having to put a suspected drug dealer out as a spokesperson.
This brings us to BLM’s latest “victim,” Jacob Blake Jr. Of all the names on BLM’s list that they probably would not want to survive, it’s Blake. As you probably know by now, Blake had a warrant out for his arrest for assault, after he forced himself on a woman. In that incident, Blake was also alleged to have stolen his victim’s car. Police were called to the house of the victim when Blake violated a restraining order, and that is where Blake was shot seven times in the back (after allegedly getting into a physical altercation with police, being tased twice, and opening the car door where a knife lay on the floorboards despite repeated warnings not to do so).
All of this didn’t stop BLM from giving Blake the full martyr’s treatment. BLM released a statement that included: “We are grieved by Jacob’s attempted murder and outraged that even after the global watershed of protest following the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Jayne Thompson in close succession, we have found ourselves here, again, demanding justice for the excessive use of force by law enforcement against a Black life.” I could go on for a long time explaining the differences between each of these cases. In fact, the only thing that links them is the skin color of those who were lost. Ahmaud Arbery wasn’t even killed by law enforcement, so I’m not sure how he even makes it onto this list. If anything, the inclusion of Arbery dilutes his killing as being lumped in with others on this list.
But now that BLM has dubbed this an attempted murder, and claimed Blake as the victim, they have put themselves into a hole. Because, you see, unlike all the others on this list and every other list of Black victims you have ever seen, Blake survived. Sure, he’s paralyzed from the waist down, but he’s able to talk. So now, BLM has martyred a man who will be alive and well enough to be the face of their organization. A man who was shot seven times by police in his back. A man who is able to give firsthand accounts of the brutal force used by police against Black people all the time.
A man who assaulted a woman in an incredibly disgusting and dehumanizing way.
That’s the rub. If BLM chooses to put Blake out there as a spokesman, they run the risk of lumping all previous names with Blake. Once he gets out of the hospital, Blake will still have to stand trial for his crimes and can easily be found guilty. Putting Jacob Blake out there to further the BLM cause must be the last thing they want. But their alternative isn’t any better. They have already raised him up to be a victim and a poster child for everything they are fighting for, which, again, is the systemic targeting of Black victims by police officers. At this point, if they decide to not use the only individual on the list who survived a racist attack, they are speaking volumes to what they really think of him. Not putting him out in front of the press and at events is akin to telling you that Jacob Blake shouldn’t actually be put on a pedestal.
You may be wondering why we can’t separate the two stories. While it may be true that Blake assaulted a woman, is that a reason for the police to be able to use lethal force on him? Does it absolve the police of their responsibility? The whole BLM movement is based around that, isn’t it?
There are several reasons why this is not the case. Firstly, context matters. The whole reason the cops were there in the first place was the assault, so the two issues are intrinsically linked from the start. It also shows that Blake wasn’t just a guy minding his own business, as initial reports at the time suggested; he was violating a restraining order against the woman he allegedly assaulted. The second reason why the two cases cannot be separated is that this now puts BLM in direct opposition to the #MeToo movement. On one hand, you have a predator, and on the other hand, you have someone who was shot by police. Ignoring the former and propping someone up based on the latter sends a terrible message, especially because the individuals who are being targeted for this message won’t be too happy that a guy who is accused of assaulting a woman is being hailed as a victim and a hero.
Lastly, Jacob Blake Jr. is not an actual victim here. We know this because, as always, context matters. Blake was not just trying to go about his business. He not only allegedly assaulted a woman, stole her car, and broke his restraining order – he also resisted arrest, fought through two non-lethal restraining attempts of a taser, and opened the door of a car after repeatedly being told not to, where there was a weapon lying on the floor. Oh, and he had three children in the back seat of the car, whose lives he was endangering. Jacob Blake did everything in his power to compel the officers to use lethal force.
The BLM organization has made a name for itself by using optics instead of facts and context. It’s why legitimate victims like Philando Castile and George Floyd are put in the same category as people like Rayshard Brooks and Jacob Blake. It’s all about the optics – and the optics are Black men being gunned down by police officers. Context is irrelevant. Well, now the optics will be reversed if they are to put Blake out in front of the media. People will see an assaulter as the face of the BLM movement. Nothing will change that, because it’s how optics works. And if you were to ask a group of people if the penalty for assaulting a woman should be as devastating as being paralyzed from the waist down, the answer will not be unanimous in either direction – and that is something about which BLM has to be worried if they are to be able to spread their message.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.