On Friday a white Sheriff’s deputy named Darren Goforth was ambushed and murdered by a black suspect in Houston. We still know nothing about the killer’s motives, but spokesmen from the police and prosecutor’s office immediately leveraged the incident to criticize groups that have protested police violence.
Rhetoric emerging from right-wing disinformation networks has been far worse. The usual suspects at Breitbart, never troubled by an absence of facts to support their narrative, have been insisting for weeks that protestors clamoring for justice in the death of Sandra Bland are tied to mysterious black militant groups. Those groups, they claim, have been calling for violence against police. The baseless claim has been sitting there, waiting for some fragment of an incident to fuel a racist backlash. Now they have what they need.
It is clear now that regardless what we learn about the murder, Deputy Goforth’s terrible death will be used to push back against efforts to make justice available to everyone. That isn’t necessary. As this case plays out, it will also offer a living demonstration of what ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters have been saying. Our justice system does not value all its citizens’ lives equally.
Nothing will restore what Deputy Goforth’s family and friends have lost. There is no justification or sense in his death. He risked his life to serve his community and a member of that community responded by murdering him. This incident is a horrifying outrage. The community must respond.
Those who suffer from Deputy Goforth’s death can expect one critical consolation that has eluded many black victims of police violence. They will have access to justice. There will be no riots in the streets over his death, no tense protests. There will be no need for the President to speak on the matter. Why? Because in the Goforth case, the system will do what it ought to do for everyone.
Prosecutors filed charges against Goforth’s alleged killer the day after his murder. On the day of the killing, every major law enforcement official in the area spoke out forcefully about the incident.
No one from the police union or the prosecutor’s office will smear Deputy Goforth or his family. No will one will claim that his parents should share responsibility for his death. His killer will not be defended or praised by public officials. Police officers will not be out on patrol wearing symbols of support for his killer. There will never be any reason to doubt whether public servants will exercise their rightful authority in seeking justice for Deputy Goforth’s murder.
Thanks to decades of forceful effort against massive, well-organized resistance, African-Americans and other minorities can now count on police and other public servants to administer justice equally most of the time. That’s progress, but that lingering gap leaves black Americans constantly on edge in their interactions with our justice system. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an effort to make the rest of the country aware of the work that remains to be done.
Someday, when black lives really do matter equally to our justice system and to the general public, then that slogan will lose its relevance. Until then, saying that “all lives matter,” or “police lives matter” is an ugly, spiteful irony. Anyone who doubts that police lives matter need only read the paper. Anyone that believes “all lives matter” to our system is living in purposeful denial, standing in the way of justice.
“All lives matter” is meaningful as an aspiration. Stated as a claim about present conditions, it is a lie that carries dark political implications. Until we live in a country where the lives of Americans like Tamir Rice and John Crawford and Eric Garner actually matter as much to the justice system as the life of Darren Goforth, then “all lives matter” will continue to be a couched insult, an obstacle to our aspiration of ensuring justice for all.