Honor slain officers by respecting Black Lives Matter

Marge Baker is the executive vice president of People for the American Way Foundation. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.

President Obama was in Dallas for the memorial service honoring the five police officers killed by a gunman while they protected a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration. As our country attempts to grapple with a week marred by devastating violence both against African-American men at the hands of police and against police officers themselves, it’s critical that we continue a conversation that the Dallas officers died trying to protect: the conversation about how to create a more just country where black lives truly matter.

When demonstrators filled the streets of Dallas to speak out against the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, the local police department documented the march on Twitter. It posted photos of smiling officers standing with activists and described controlling traffic to make sure the marchers were safe. Sharay Santora, who was protesting along with her two children, said the officers gave out hugs and high-fives. In her words, the message of the police was: “I’m here for you.”

Against the backdrop of police officers who brutally killed a man during a traffic stop and another who was working to provide for his family, the Dallas officers were providing a powerful counter-example of policing by engaging with, serving and protecting the community. When the shooter opened fire at them, the officers died trying to defend a space for people to exercise their First Amendment rights and express their grief and rage in the wake of police shootings.

Though some on the right have outrageously tried to point the blame toward the Black Lives Matter movement, in reality a way to honor those officers is to continue to make space for the conversation about racial justice that the officers’ presence helped to facilitate. It’s exactly what protesters have done throughout the history of this country and are already doing through peaceful demonstrations, vigils and marches across the country. These protesters are shining a spotlight on the fact that we live in a nation where police have killed at least 136 black people in 2016 alone (and it’s only July).

And that police are much more likely to use force against people of color than white people. That racism is pervasive, infecting our criminal justice system and forcing too many people to live in fear of whether they, or their child, will become the next name written across headlines and protest signs.

We have a responsibility to do everything we can to push back against these injustices. As a white woman, I believe that white people in particular need to step up and stand in solidarity with the people of color-led movements already pushing for racial justice reform along with criminal and juvenile and law enforcement reforms. We have to prioritize the conversation about how to end police violence against people of color as well as join in the work of fixing policies that have a negative effect on their social, economic, political lives.

In addition to being police officers, the five men who were murdered in Dallas were a part of the communities represented that day. They may or may not have agreed with the message that protesters were sending, but they stood up to facilitate and protect protesters’ right to speak their mind. Attempting to shut down that conversation, which the Dallas police officers were holding space for, doesn’t honor them. It does exactly the opposite.