The Black Lives Matter movement is in no way to blame for the incident, and the fact that violent criminals sometimes target police officers would, in a logical world, have no effect on support for body cameras that police departments don’t control; independent prosecutors for cases in which cops are accused of excessive force; an end to the War on Drugs; curtailing the power of police and prison-guard unions; restoring the voting rights of felons who’ve paid their debts to society; and other policy reforms that would make the criminal justice system more just.
Unfortunately, many members of the public wrongheadedly react to violent crime by shying away from any efforts to reform policing, even though such cases demonstrate the vital need for quality cops. The public hears about bullets whizzing by police in Ferguson, feels sympathy and concern for them—as do I!—and irrationally concludes that stymieing long-overdue reforms will somehow keep them safer. But no widely sought reform would make police officers more vulnerable to premeditated shootings or prevent them from responding aggressively.
Some members of the public will wrongheadedly conflate Black Lives Matter activists and the criminals who used the cover of Sunday’s anniversary and the accompanying protests to fire guns, beat up and rob a St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper reporter, and smash the window of a small business that serves Ferguson. There is no evidence that those criminals were participants in the Black Lives Matter movement. The vast majority of its members have been nonviolent all year, conducting themselves with uncommon bravery and restraint in difficult circumstances.
Alongside these unfortunate setbacks that the Black Lives Matter movement could not do much about, Sunday also saw activists acting under its banner disrupting a Seattle rally held by Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont Senator who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination from the left.
CNN reports on what happened:
Seconds after Sanders took the stage, a dozen protesters from the city's Black Lives Matter chapter jumped barricades around the stage and grabbed the microphone from the senator. Holding a banner that said “Smash Racism,” two of the protesters—Marissa Janae Johnson and Mara Jacqeline Willaford, the co-founders of the chapter—began to address the crowd.
“My name is Marissa Janae Johnson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Seattle,” she said to sustained boos from an audience that had waited an hour and a half to hear Sanders. “I was going to tell Bernie how racist this city is, filled with its progressives, but you already did it for me, thank you.
“You are never going to hear Bernie speak if I don't hear silence now,” said Johnson, adding later, “Now that you've covered yourself in your white supremacist liberalism, I will formally welcome Bernie Sanders to Seattle.”
To sustained boos from the audience that assembled to see Sanders, Johnson demanded that the senator take action on saving black lives and called on him to release his plans to reform policing. "Bernie Sanders, would you please come over here," she said. Johnson and Willaford demanded—and eventually won—a four-and-a-half-minute-long moment of silence in honor of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was killed by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a year ago on Sunday. Sanders stood just feet away off stage, chatting with his wife, Jane, and the three aides that came to Seattle with him. Sanders’ aides said the senator had no plans of leaving during the protests, but once Johnson did not appear willing to give up the mic after the moment of silence, organizers effectively shut down the event.
Again, in a logical world, these tactics, love them or hate them, would have no effect on public support for a broad range of reforms to America’s criminal justice system. Still, this sort of activism strikes me as a self-inflicted blow to Black Lives Matter. After activists used a similar tactic against Sanders at Netroots Nation, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie astutely observed that while many expected the fissure point for liberals in the 2016 election to be between Hillary Clinton and those to her left, the first fissure to emerge, concurrent with protest movements against police brutality and for social-democracy, is an old liberal split between focusing on race and focusing on class.