Black Lives Matter's Betrayal of Black Life | Opinion

Jussie Smollett's conviction last week for inventing a hate crime should have led to some soul-searching among the many who quickly accepted his hoax, not only as true but as evidence of the persistence and pervasiveness of white supremacy in America. It should have—but didn't. In a statement, Dr. Melina Abdullah, director of Black Lives Matter Grassroots and co-founder of BLM Los Angeles, doubled down on the movement's support for Smollett. "In our commitment to abolition, we can never believe police, especially the Chicago Police Department (CPD) over Jussie Smollett, a Black man who has been courageously present, visible, and vocal in the struggle for Black freedom," read a statement from BLM.

Supporting a hate crime hoaxter in the name of racial solidarity is a far cry from the movement's origins in 2014 to shine a light on police brutality, particularly the killing of unarmed Black men. But supporting Smollett, who made a mockery of racism, is not an aberration. Across the board, BLM has abandoned its important goal to protect Black life in order to wage a culture war about race.

Jussie Smollett verdict White House statement shameful
The White House has called it "shameful" that actor Jussie Smollett lied to police about a hate crime, even though both Democratic President Joe Biden and Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris have left up tweets expressing support for actor after he claimed to be targeted by a racist and anti-gay hate attack. In this photo, Smollett waves as he follows his attorney to the microphones after his court appearance at Leighton Courthouse on March 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty

The Smollett statement came after another BLM proclamationurging people not to do their Christmas shopping in white-owned stores. "When buying items, spend exclusively with Black-owned businesses from Black Friday through New Year," BLM said on its website and Instagram. As justification, the group cited a number of shootings at two Walmart locations and instances of shoppers being racially profiled for being Black.

Even if in all instances police officers' actions were criminal, the group found six cases nationally over a six year period, and in none of them was the store at fault. Moreover, four of the victims had not only committed offenses but refused to obey police orders and presented a danger.

As in the case of Smollett, BLM decided to side with the malefactors instead of with the shoppers—also people of color—they may have been threatening.

blm flag in new york
A protester holds a large flag that says, "Black Lives Matter" during a protest in Times Square in New York, on July 26, 2020. Widespread demonstrations broke out after the killing of George Floyd. Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

The most critical problem and the real betrayal to Black life is BLM's resolute unwillingness to acknowledge the devastating impact of gun violence on Black communities. Whereas nationally 15 unarmed Black Americans were killed by police in 2020, there were more than 1,000 Black homicides—of which 292 were children. But even for those lucky enough to escape being killed, sociologist Patrick Sharkey has documented the serious psychological problems children experience when they hear guns fired in their neighborhoods.

And yet, despite this growing and absolutely devastating problem of gun violence in Black neighborhoods, the only people you ever hear talk about it come from the political Right. On the Left, it is routine to silence such concerns as a dogwhistle for racism Thus, the influential black magazine The Root defended Black activists' refusal to talk about it, arguing that bringing up gun violence "is the repeated sleight of hand used to distract and drown out the voices of Black Lives Matter... an oft-used 'alt-right' refrain."

And this criticism is used even when the person bringing up gun violence is Black, like actor and TV host Terry Crews who was viciously attacked after criticizing BLM for ignoring the gun violence. Typical was the response of CNN host Don Lemon: "But that's not what the Black Lives Matter movement is about, Terry. Black Lives Matter is about police brutality and about criminal justice. It's not about what happens in communities when it comes to crime, Black-on-Black crime." If Crews wanted to stem community violence, Lemon concluded, he should not expect BLM to be the venue. "Form your own movement," Lemon advised.

And this silence of Black Lives Matter and their media supporters when it comes to Black life being stolen by gun violence has shown no sign of abating, even with homicides reaching levels not seen for more than twenty years.

It's about time those who truly believe that Black lives matter, who believe in strengthening the Black family, who condemn racial hoaxes and reject demonizing all white people for the racist actions of some to separate themselves from the BLM leadership. The moral force of the anti-racist movement is being undermined by the BLM leadership. And we can't afford for that to happen.

Robert Cherry is professor emeritus of economics at Brooklyn College.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.