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PD Editorial: Black Lives Matter — saying so can make it a reality

Black Lives Matter.

It’s a simple concept that doesn’t demean anyone or undervalue any lives.

We support it unequivocally.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of race relations in the United States that these three words — and what they embody — can cause so much consternation 244 years after Thomas Jefferson wrote these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal …”

Our nation is still trying to live up to that ideal.

When tens of thousands of people poured into the streets following the death of George Floyd, it wasn’t because a white police officer killing a Black man is uncommon in the United States. They protested because it happens so often. Police kill Blacks at more than twice the rate that they kill whites, according to research by the Washington Post.

Too often, victims are accused of petty crimes or, even worse, no crime whatsoever.

Floyd was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child, was cavorting with a toy gun in a Cleveland park. Breonna Taylor was asleep in her Louisville, Kentucky apartment when police burst in with a no-knock warrant. Jeremiah Chass, 13, of Sebastopol had a mental health emergency. Eric Garner was selling untaxed cigarettes on a New York sidewalk.

It isn’t always police officers pulling the trigger. In February, self-appointed vigilantes chased down Ahmaud Arbery and shot him to death while he was jogging in his Georgia neighborhood. Trayvon Martin died under similar circumstances in Florida.

These deaths, and others like them, became catalysts for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Doug Hilberman, who resigned this week as president of the Sonoma County Alliance, isn’t the first person to respond that all lives matter. Law enforcement groups have pushed their own alternative, blue lives matter. True and true.

But, intentionally or not, they miss the point.

Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that only Black lives matter or Black lives matter more or some other lives matter less. It means that Black lives matter, too.

To say Black lives matter is to call for human dignity, for Black lives to be valued in the same way that white lives already are. It’s a demand for equal treatment under the law. It’s a plea for African Americans to be allowed to work, play, travel and sleep without fearing for their lives or the lives of their children.

It is, in short, a call for society to live up to Jefferson’s noble words, instead of living down to his hypocrisy as a slave owner.

Hilberman opened a letter on the Alliance website with the phrase, “ALL lives matter” and went on to lecture Black Lives Matter demonstrators, describing graffiti and a handful of broken windows in downtown Santa Rosa as rioting. The backlash was swift and included complaints from Latino members about structural racism in the business advocacy group.

“Needless to say, I got it horribly wrong,” said Hilberman, who resigned Monday. “I did not mean to create any harm, but I know I’ve done terrible harm to the community.”

Progress comes slowly, sometimes fueled by humbling lessons. Hilberman and the remaining leaders of the Alliance say they now understand why saying “all lives matter” is insensitive and inflammatory. That’s a step forward. The Black Lives Matter movement must keep pushing ahead until everyone understands.

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