Last week at a nationally televised town hall meeting on CNN, “Black, White and Blue: America 2016,” I made a comment that shouldn’t be controversial: I said black lives matter.
The question being debated at that moment was a variation of one I hear repeatedly, “Don’t all lives matter?”
Of course all lives matter, I explained. But as a white guy I’ve never felt that my life didn’t matter. I’ve never been pulled over for “driving while white.” I’ve never been stopped and frisked.
The phrase “black lives matter” doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter. The “black lives matter” movement is about acknowledging that black Americans have a different daily experience with law enforcement than do white Americans.
Every day, people of color are subject to far higher rates of street stops, arrests and summons than white New Yorkers. The disparity in enforcement is so bad that recently one Brooklyn judge, while arraigning yet another Latino defendant for carrying an open containers of alcohol, “I cannot recall ever arraigning a white defendant for such a violation.” Overall, 81 percent of summons go to black and Latino New Yorkers. At the height of stop and frisk, black and Latino New Yorkers were subject to 83 percent of all street stops.
Just two weeks ago, Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota after he was pulled over during a traffic stop — just one of the 49 times he had been stopped by police in 13 years. Like elsewhere in the country, including New York, black and Latino men and women are more likely — up to seven times more likely in predominately white areas — to be stopped by the police in Minnesota. The governor of Minnesota said he didn’t think the shooting would have happened if a white person were driving.
One day before Philando Castile’s death, Alton Sterling was killed in a Louisiana parking lot after he was tackled to the ground by white police officers. Video footage shows he was on the ground right before he was shot.
There is a clear difference in the issues black Americans face in their day-to-day life that white people don’t experience. Instead of being divided and debating phrases, white Americans should recognize the different experience black Americans have and they should understand that when people say black lives matter, they aren’t saying that white lives don’t matter — they’re simply saying that they want their lives to matter like white lives already do.
Rory I. Lancman is a City Council Member for District 24 representing all or parts of Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills and Jamaica.