Can Black Lives Matter and Police Lives Matter coexist?

Community members held a Police Lives Matter march in Houston Saturday in honor of slain Texas Deputy Darren Goforth. Is there room for both this movement and Black Lives Matter in national discourse?

Harris County Sheriff's Office/Handout via Reuters/File
A statuette of a police officer holding the hand of a boy is seen near other mementos and messages left at the scene of a policeman's shooting in Houston, Texas August 30, 2015. On Saturday, community members held a 'Police Lives Matter' march in Houston in honor of the slain officer, Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth.

Thousands of people gathered in Houston Saturday in honor of Texas Deputy Darren Goforth, who was gunned down at a gas station last month.

Organizers said the theme of the march was “Police Lives Matter,” with marchers wearing blue shirts and carrying signs that said, “Love One Another: In Memory of Deputy Goforth” and “United We Goforth,” local news outlets reported.  

The march’s message reflects the strong response that Deputy Goforth’s death has had in the law enforcement community; Goforth, who was white, was in uniform and gassing up his patrol car when he was killed. Police have charged Shannon J. Miles, a local black man, with capital murder.

And while the motive remains unclear, Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman has suggested that the slaying could have been influenced by rising national tension over police treatment of the black community.

"We've heard black lives matter; all lives matter. Well cops' lives matter too," Sheriff Hickman said at a news conference following Mr. Miles’ arrest.

The statement has resonated with supporters of law enforcement, which has over the last year been the focus of calls for sweeping reform in the face of high-profile, violent confrontations between officers and unarmed black men and women – and the equally high-profile police deaths that followed. It has also, in a way, promoted mutual respect and understanding between police and the black community .

As legal analyst Philip Holloway wrote in an op-ed for CNN:

The solution is first to be just as outraged at this deputy's killing as we collectively were when Freddie Gray or Eric Garner died. Next community leaders and police leaders need to find a way to reconcile. It won't be easy, but it must be done.

...Violence is out of control, and I agree with the sheriff that "#livesmatter." It is time to drop any other descriptive adjectives – journalists' lives matter, black lives matter, police lives matter, every single life matters.

But this type of discourse has also served to divide. Some critics, for instance, equate the Black Lives Matter movement to anti-white and anti-police radicalism – a response to acts of violence and vandalism committed by apparent supporters of the movement.

“President Obama has breathed life into this ugly movement," David Clarke, sheriff for Milwaukee County, Wis., told Fox News after Goforth’s death. "It is time now for good, law-abiding Americans to rise up like they did in Houston around that Chevron station, an outpouring. But it can’t just be symbolic, we now have to counter this slime, this filth coming out of these cop haters."

Vox’s Dara Lind explained, however, that the movement’s message is a bit more nuanced than what some critics suggest.

Many people have a great deal of difficulty understanding why anyone would say "black lives matter" if they didn't think white lives mattered less.

This is circular: The reason "black lives matter" became a slogan to begin with was that activists felt that some people needed to be reminded that black lives mattered as much as white lives, because no one needed to be reminded white lives mattered. They were reacting to a system that assigned different levels of value to lives based on race. But by making a difference explicit, they've been hit with the charge that they're the ones who created that difference to begin with.

“I think black lives matter,” Texas State Representative Garnet F. Coleman (D) of Houston told The New York Times. “I think deputy sheriffs’ lives matter. But I think the statement shows a lack of understanding of what is occurring in this country when it comes to the singling out of African-Americans.”

Still others have pointed out that supporting one group doesn’t mean opposition to the other – a position that suggests hope remains for reconciliation.

“I don’t think it’s us versus them,” Atlanta beat cop Barricia McCormick, who served as an officer in Texas before joining the APD in 2011, told The Christian Science Monitor. “Yeah, the media might have some people looking more closely at police and wondering. But the fact is, I get thanked more now than I did before, and I have people coming up to me just randomly telling me to be safe out there, stuff like that. And I know it’s related to what’s going on nationally, because when they approach me they usually mention something they heard on the news.”

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo expressed a similar sentiment, telling a local Fox network: “They're not in conflict. Just because you believe black lives matter doesn't mean you don't support the police.”

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