Ever since Michael Brown's death at the hands of Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson last summer, "Black Lives Matter" has been the unofficial rallying cry of people who are fed up with racialized police violence and the wildly disparate rates at which African Americans are killed by people charged with enforcing the law. (Read more: This chart explains why black people fear being killed by police)
In some ways, "Black Lives Matter" is — or should be — an obvious statement. After all, few would actually argue that the life of anyone, of any race, is completely worthless. That's the thinking that inspired the more general "All lives matter" version, which has been embraced by many Americans as an alternative slogan. And it's true — all lives do matter.
This is why people think black lives don't matter to police officers
But that broader "All lives matter" statement obscures the uniquely disturbing attitudes that "Black Lives Matter" responds to, which can actually be kind of hard to articulate to those who might not have the personal perspective of feeling that people who look like them are being treated as less than human.
Tavis Smiley has done a really good job of explaining it.
On Wednesday's episode of The Daily Show, the talk show host explicitly connected the dots, in a step-by-step analysis of the video showing South Carolina police officer Michael Slager shooting a fleeing 50-year-old Walter Scott during a traffic stop.
Smiley described the mindset that would have had to existed for Slager to make each of the choices that led him to shoot his victim eight times in the back, decline to give him medical attention, and handcuff his dead body. And he broke down the exact actions that would lead many to conclude that the officer, who's now been charged with murder, didn't have much regard for Scott as a human being:
"What we're seeing in this country is the contestation of the humanity of too many people, and when you think that black men's lives don't matter and their humanity, their dignity can be contested — If that's the starting place then the ending point is eight bullets in your black lying face down. Now how do you know he didn't care about his humanity? Because he shot him, like a coward, 8 times in the back as he's running away. How do you know he doesn't care about his life? Because as he's dead on the ground, you're so afraid of a black man that as you shoot him 8 times in the back and he's face down he's dead and you still handcuff him. What does that say about how you regard or disregard the humanity of that particular human being?"
Basically, Smiley explained sentiments behind "Black Lives Matter" to all Americans like we were kindergarteners. And we needed that, because while it's easy for people to agree that they believe that black lives, like all lives, matter, actions like these speak louder than words.