People Are Using Houston to Criticize 'All Lives Matter'

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People use an inflated mattress to evacuate their homes after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Getty Images

Hurricane Harvey has sparked a conversation about "All lives matter" on social media in relation to what's happened in Houston.

If you're not familiar with the phrase "All lives matter," it emerged in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. In the ongoing discussion regarding Hurricane Harvey and Houston, people are now using the phrase "All cities matter" on social media to illustrate what they feel is the empty and counterintuitive perspective of "All lives matter" supporters.

Since the Black Lives Matter movement hit the national spotlight over the past few years, "All lives matter" has been uttered by everyone from President Donald Trump to the rapper Fetty Wap—in different contexts.

Not everyone who's said "All lives matter" has been aware of the debate surrounding the phrase, and some have even gone on to apologize for using it, including Fetty Wap. (He said he "didn't fully understand" what it meant.)

But many who employ the phrase seem to believe the Black Lives Matter movement places more value on the lives of black people than other groups.

The Black Lives Matter movement, though, has never suggested other lives don't matter. It aims to highlight systemic racism and the disproportionate impact the criminal justice system has on people of color—which is well documented—and work toward reform.

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, told The New York Times, "The entire point of Black Lives Matter is to illustrate the extent to which black lives have not mattered in this country."

Those who say "Black lives matter" are not suggesting all lives don't matter. Rather, they seek to create a society in which all lives are valued equally and treated accordingly. At the moment, the Black Lives Matter movement argues this is not the case in the United States.

Black people make up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, while white people make up roughly 61 percent. In 2015 and 2016, black people were killed by U.S. police at more than twice the rate of white people, according to The Counted, a database on police killings created by The Guardian.

According to the NAACP, black people are also incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. Moreover, in spite of almost identical rates of marijuana use, black people are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, an American Civil Liberties Union report shows.

In short, the Black Lives Matter movement's grievances are not imagined.

This is why many feel saying "All lives matter" takes focus away from the valid concerns of people of color regarding the criminal justice system and state violence more generally. In the same way, saying "All cities matter" as Hurricane Harvey smashed into Houston would take attention away from the city's imminent need for assistance.

Beyond "All cities matter" and Houston, there are other analogies that illustrate this point. One wouldn't see a house on fire and respond by saying "All houses matter," for example.

As DeRay Mckesson, one of the most prominent voices in the Black Lives Matter movement, put it during a CNN appearance in July 2016, "It's this interesting thing that people are frustrated that black people are focusing on the unique trauma that black people are facing in this country. And I would never go to a breast cancer rally and yell out, 'Colon cancer matters!' And that's what people are doing here."

People Are Using Houston to Criticize 'All Lives Matter' | U.S.