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Black Lives Matter is an American social justice movement which seeks to remedy the problem of extrajudicial killings of people of color by police officers among other issues. One aspect of this movement, that I found interesting was that they usually start demonstrating before the police department in question has had a chance to review the facts of the shooting and take any disciplinary or legal actions against the officer responsible.

For example, on July 6 2016, the world saw a video of Philando Castile after he was shot 4 times by a police officer. In the video, his girlfriend narrates, describing a horrific miscarriage of justice. She claims Mr. Castile was pulled over for a traffic stop and after announcing that he had a legal firearm with a concealed carry permit and reaching for his wallet, he was shot 4 times. Later that day he died. Immediately following, and in reaction to another fatal shooting, Black Lives Matter organizers set up protests throughout the country.

Meanwhile, another organization which champions the rights of concealed carry permit holders, the NRA, released a statement saying “The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated, in the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing.”

What are the reasons the Black Lives Matter movement members use to explain why they protest while investigations are pending; rather than waiting until law enforcement has had a chance to investigate, release relevant information, and punish officers who have broken the law or violated police procedure? I understand that there is no formalized platform of the grassroots Black Lives Matter movement, but I think prominent members, organizers, or reporters who have spoken to many members will be good enough sources to get a sense of the reasoning behind this decision.

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    The point of protesting before/during the investigation is to signal to those investigating and to the public that this is a big deal not to be swept under the rug. If inactive stakeholders are sitting dormant then the investigators may think (perhaps correctly) that the public doesn't care and is ready to sweep it under the rug. – Dean MacGregor Jul 12 '16 at 13:26
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    A movement that condemns the whole system as being unjust does not believe that the investigation will be accurate or just or provide the answers and accountability protesters seek, without the protests. Plus, there are demonstrations (e.g. Walter Scott) of what kind of cover-up reports come out of these investigations when people aren't protesting to demand accountability and answers, and how that devalues the lives of the people who were killed. – WBT Jul 12 '16 at 14:45
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    Note that an investigations ultimate aim is to make a legal decision as to who is at fault and attempt to make harmed parties whole - again, in a legal sense only. But the BLM movements aim is to call attention to a broken system that causes the harm in the first place and fix that. The latter would have no reason for existing if the former worked effectively, and thus it's only logical to not need to wait on the legal a system to take its course before acting. – Nathaniel Ford Jul 12 '16 at 23:42
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    ...it is important for the NRA not to comment... Any idea what comment the NRA could possibly make in this case? Of course, the NRA has previously protested before investigations have completed when circumstances conflicted with NRA goals. Being much better financed and better connected, they tend to go quickly to court for their protests. And NRA lack of protests? See When the NRA Opposed Open Carry. – user2338816 Jul 13 '16 at 10:28
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    Despite all the answers in this thread, the biggest reason is that BLM just isn't organized. There's nobody calling the shots. If you want to stage a BLM protest, you're free to do so. You don't need approval. There's no concept of "membership". – BooleanCheese Jul 14 '16 at 19:23

10 Answers 10

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The Black Lives Matter campaign is predicated on the position that people of color are met disproportionately with death or other mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement, and that this phenomena is enabled by generalized cultural under-valuation of Black lives. The complex is not merely in that the cops themselves are belligerent or apathetic or whatever, but that society as a whole is unconcerned with improving on the status quo, and therefore fails to subject the establishments of law enforcement with the scrutiny and interest necessary to make any changes.

So the notion of waiting to see what nuances the investigation turns up is rather beside the point, isn't it? Taciturn proceduralism is how events like these retain their mundanity and become the accepted order of the day. Philando Castile's Life Mattered, as they say, so you ought to be furious to see it ended in such a way! You shouldn't be waiting for further details, you should be rabidly demanding answers. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Explain all the factors which could have possibly contributed to this tragedy and justify why greater efforts aren't being taken to change them. That's what they're saying, at those protests.

Make no mistake, the circumstances around the flashpoint event in this case were almost perfect (in a sickening way): Mr. Castile's seeming benignity, the shocking depiction of his death rattle, and the superhuman calm and respect with which his girlfriend handled herself even in the midst of the officer brandishing his weapon and apparently slipping into hysteria. These characteristics make it easy to sympathize and to rally to the moral high-ground, and those features are certainly very important as the foundations of an effective activist campaign. There is an ugly reactionary impulse which searches for mitigating circumstances and weaknesses in the victim's character to write off events such as these, and in this case it looks like it's gonna be pretty tough outside of some kind of discovery in the investigation.

But, while it's certainly possible that something might come to light that moves the late Mr. Castile a little less beyond reproach, it really shouldn't be a matter of concern. The outrage, here, is not that a saint was killed, but that a person was. You've heard people bitching about the Black Lives Matter moniker and making the counterpoint that All Lives Matter, right? Well, yeah, that's actually the entire point. The precise details of this anecdote are irrelevant beyond the fact that a guy started the day with a burnt-out light bulb and ended it in a bloodbath. A person can go from A to B while acting entirely within the realm of reasonable and benign human behavior, and since that is clearly not a standard of conduct which people should be required to surpass just to avoid being slaughtered, something else has gotta change. The protesters have gathered to say: find that thing and change it, now.

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    This answer is excellent. It is very on point regarding the frustration exhibited by the people protesting under this banner. I would upvote it multiple times, if possible, for pointing out the absurdity of responding to the call, "Black Lives Matter!" with the answer, "All Lives Matter." After all, if All Lives Matter, why is it Black Lives seem to be so worthless in the eyes of the public? Until Black Lives Matter, All Lives clearly don't Matter. – Derrell Durrett Jul 11 '16 at 22:06
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Jul 13 '16 at 17:36
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    I think this is a very good explanation of the general reasoning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. The reason that the "Blue Lives Matter" and the "All Lives Matter" responses exist is because a few people within the Black Lives Matter movement take their frustration to an extreme and attack police. This should be decried just as strongly as police going out of their way to attack Blacks. – mbomb007 Jul 14 '16 at 15:44
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    @SteveJessop It's illegal. It endangers the lives of anyone on the road, including the drivers. It prevents ordinary citizens from doing what they need to. If anything, it's making people dislike blacks more. No smart person would walk into the middle of the interstate. There are better ways to reach progress than breaking the law, endangering lives of citizens not involved, etc. – mbomb007 Jul 18 '16 at 15:33
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I don't know their actual reasons, but I can offer two valid reasons:

  1. Right now the horror of that event and video is fresh on everyone's mind. Protests held now have the maximum exposure and most chance of making people realize there is something systemically wrong, that it's not just an unfortunate incident. The main focus is not punishing those responsible, but effecting change in the entire way police forces approach black men specifically.
  2. There is a higher chance that the people in charge feel pressured to make real work of the investigation they are promising in front of cameras right now, in response to the protests and unrest. If nobody protested, they would feel more free to let the incident fade from memory and then let the officers off with a warning or reprimand in a few months or a year, citing "lack of evidence" and signaling to other police officers that they can literally get away with killing (if the victim is black).
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Three key reasons:

  1. To influence the investigation. The position of BLM is that these incidents have been swept under the rug and ignored for decades. Waiting in the hopes that someone will care has not worked so far and it doesn't seem to be a strategy worth trying.

  2. To draw attention to a problem that transcends a single event. Six months from now, people will barely remember this incident and any attempt to use it to draw attention will not be news and will face legitimate complaints of "dragging up the same old stories".

  3. To get some healing in the families and the communities. Wounds won't wait for months, and these issues hurt. Making it clear that these lives matter and that people aren't dying for nothing helps make these tragedies more bearable.

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    Good answer for pointing out that individuals who may not trust law enforcement (rightly or wrongly) may not be inclined to wait to see what they have to say on the matter when video evidence (especially when taken out of context) paints a pretty bleak picture. – Jeff Lambert Jul 12 '16 at 13:49
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Why do they protest early, when the NRA withholds judgement?

I think the paradigm that best explains it is the risk/reward pay-off. Here is the relevant pay-off matrix (further explained below):

                 NRA      BLM
act    risk      high     low
       reward    low      high
wait   risk      low      high
       reward    ?        low

This analysis explains this question, without digging into the subtle nuances of what particular groups usually support what.

The NRA

The NRA has a lot to lose if they back someone who turns out to be unfavorable. Thus the risks of rushing to defend someone who claims to be victimized is pretty high.

The NRA already has a lot of support. They are considered leaders on the 2nd amendment. Their reward for jumping on an issue that turns out to be a loser, would probably cost them a lot of supporters.

They would also not likely gain new supporters by jumping on a new story early. So the reward aspect would be low.

As a result, it would be foolish for a rational NRA to jump on this bandwagon until it is completely clear that the claims of victimhood are real.

NRA's support of law enforcement

The history of the NRA's association with law enforcement is also relevant, but including it in the analysis of answering this question is unnecessary to come to the conclusion that we have. However, this political alignment would further explain the NRA's reticence to support the complainant against the police.

BLM

BLM does not have the same base of support that the NRA does. It is fairly new. I'm not sure whether it is well-organized or not, however, this is irrelevant to the conclusion that they should be expected to rush to judgement.

Assuming it is well organized

If they wait too long, they risk getting preempted for leadership by another organization. This hypothetical organization may not want to cooperate with them (share in press releases, headlines, etc.).

Also, the earlier they protest, the more likely that they may get a reaction formation - i.e. people that they target politically may choose to take a more extreme position against them - which will benefit them in terms of gaining followers and support.

Assuming not well organized

If it is not well organized, then there are likely fewer restraints on it. Perhaps any impulsive member could declare a rally, meeting, demonstration, etc.

In which case, they probably don't care enough about the risks of being wrong to let that guide their decision making.

Conclusion

The NRA is a very old organization, while BLM is very new. The NRA has a lot to lose if it is wrong. BLM has little to lose.

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    Culturally, the NRA is a “law & order” group, supported by many cops; to criticize police action (other than, y'know, seizing guns) goes against its grain. – Anton Sherwood Jul 11 '16 at 23:54
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    @AntonSherwood Your explanation seems more probable, considering how quick the NRA are to react to events like Columbine or Orlando. They're not shy about jumping on a new story early when it concerns events that pose a genuine threat to their interests. – deworde Jul 12 '16 at 15:40
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    The NRA is generally very quick to react and insist that the latest tragedy would have been avoided if only The Good Guys Had Been Allowed To Carry Guns to schools, bars, nightclubs, etc. In fact, the only thing they're faster at saying about the latest tragedy is how people who favor better gun control laws (or even just want the ones that exist enforced) should not callously use this tragedy to attempt to further their own agenda. – Shadur Jul 13 '16 at 9:16
  • "NRA withholds judgement" should probably be "NRA withholds comment." – barbecue Jul 13 '16 at 22:13
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    I'd also add that the NRA is an organization, with a legal entity, hierarchical leadership, etc... while BLM is a movement. BLM certainly has leaders, organizations under its umbrella, etc..., but it is structured differently and there aren't clear lines about who can/cannot speak for it. BLM "does" whatever enough people in that movement want it to do. – Zach Lipton Jul 13 '16 at 22:44
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Part of the problem is a double standard. As if the deference traditionally given to officers' unsupported testimony were not enough, many jurisdictions have a “Police Officer's Bill of Rights” providing that an officer in Yanez's position has at least a few days to examine the evidence and rehearse his version of events before any questioning. But supposing Yanez (Yáñez?) had been shot and killed while breaking into Castile's home at midnight, I for one would not expect the police to say “It would be premature to draw any conclusions before investigation is complete”; I'd bet on the chief to call it capital murder at a press conference the same day.

BLM aren't interested in “we're investigating and we'll get back to you as soon as we determine how our brother officer did absolutely nothing wrong.”

  • I believe he may even have 30 days to make a deposition. – kleineg Jul 12 '16 at 15:26
  • I believe it varies from place to place. – Anton Sherwood Jul 12 '16 at 20:31
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This question is, of course, politically charged, but let me try to give a neutral answer.

There are very legitimate reasons to not wait until an investigation is complete.

First, if you believe that the government is corrupt or biased, then you have no reason to believe that an investigation will be honest. Why bother waiting for a report that you know is just going to be a whitewash of a guilty person? Perhaps you are convinced that the important, relevant facts are already known, and an investigation is just a stalling tactic. Which leads me to ...

Second, when government officials are caught engaging in illegal or inappropriate behavior, a viable tactic is to announce an investigation, drag it out until other events in the news have taken over the public's attention, and then release a report that is as boring and equivocating as possible so that it will attract little attention. You drag the investigation out for months or years, and then when anyone tries to protest the original event, you piously declare, "it's not appropriate to comment until after the investigation is complete". Eventually you issue the report and declare that "mistakes were made" and give recommendations for new policies or regulations, carefully avoiding holding anyone responsible. If the situation is still hot, announce that the committee was deadlocked or otherwise unable to come to conclusions, and so a new investigation is required. Spend a lot of time debating how the new investigation should be conducted. If you're lucky, you may get away with just letting the matter drop. If not, you start the clock over on "you're not allowed to comment because it's still under investigation".

There is at least one very not-legitimate reason to protest before any investigation: If you don't really care about the facts of the case. You believe that your group is persecuted. You find a dramatic example. If it turns out that this person really brought his problems on himself, you don't care because there are so many other cases where a member of your group was persecuted for no good reason. You're not protesting for this one person; you're protesting for the group. The individual person involved is just a mascot to represent the grievance of the group.

To people involved, this often sounds reasonable: we know our group is persecuted. If this person turns out to not be a good example, that doesn't prove that we're not persecuted because there are so many other good examples. The catch, of course, is that if many of your examples prove to be bad examples, you're left with little or no evidence to back up the original claim.

In the absolute worst case, you're not organizing a protest because you care about any injustice, but because you want to draw attention to yourself and make yourself politically powerful (in one sense or another).

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I think they are not protesting mainly for prosecution. Of course they want justice too but their primary goal is to draw attention to racism in the public authorities. In that sense the result of the investigation does not matter.

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Zachary Hammond's case demonstrates the alternative. An unarmed teen was shot while driving away from police, by an officer who was running up to the side of the car and claimed he thought the driver was trying to run him over, though the autopsy results and eventually the dashcam footage indicated otherwise.

There were no protests in the street; it was primarily the boy’s parents trying to get the video out. Police refused to turn over the dashcam footage until the investigation concluded months later with the conclusion that this killing broke no laws and no charges would be brought. By that time, the City Administrator also released a statement saying it was time to move on from Hammond’s death, because the three months they took for the investigation had been hard enough and anyone who disagreed with that use of force was not a member of the community:

The past three months have been extremely difficult for the residents of Seneca, its city employees and the 45 members of its police force. While the effects of outside agitators to tear apart our community lingers, we are thankful the investigation has come to an end and shows Lt. Tiller was acting in self-defense.

Had there been protests in the street and political pressure for some accountability, there might have been more accountability, such as earlier release of evidence or real changes that hold officers accountable for tactics that very quickly put them in situations where they can claim they perceived enough danger to apply an instant death penalty for failure to follow orders. That's the kind of accountability BLM seeks (at least) and history shows that waiting for the end of an investigation before protesting to demand it is not likely to be the most effective strategy.

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For starters, they are not protesting a single event. They are protesting a systemic problem--of which these recent events are examples of.

Secondly, there's a lot of evidence out there right now. Given the systemic problem, the evidence that is available now, it seems like an appropriate time to question via protest.

Could further evidence bring a different perspective to these two particular events? Certainly. But to wait weeks if not months to protest would weaken the entire point of the protest to begin with. The public has short attention spans.

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Why do people hold funerals rather than waiting for the biographical investigation to determine whether the person was worthy of a funeral?

The point of Black Lives Matter is that the lives of black people matter. Therefore, when a black life is ended, it is a tragedy. When a life is ended deliberately by police, it is an outrage.

The protests don't wait for investigations because they have completely lost faith in investigations. When was the last time a police officer was jailed for murdering a suspect? It happens far too rarely compared to the number and severity of incidents.

It is possible to run a police service that shoots people far less often than the US. Most of Europe manages it. US police kill as many people as 9/11 every couple of years, the majority of whom are black. If that mattered, then something would be done about it. Because nothing is done to improve this, it is taken as an assertion that the lives lost don't matter.

Investigation into the victim is irrelevant, because the principle of lives mattering per se is important here. It doesn't actually matter what someone has done or how they behaved, they don't deserve to die. This is a very human rights line of thinking, whereas a lot of America still holds some kind of belief that human life is inherently worthless and only gains value through virtue. Conversely, the moment someone transgresses, or appears like they might be about to, it's OK to shoot them dead.

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    the majority of whom are black Citation doesn't exit. Protestant belief that human life is inherently worthless Citation doesn't exist. – hownowbrowncow Jul 12 '16 at 13:23
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    theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/31/… "Final total of people killed by US police officers in 2015 shows rate of death for young black men was five times higher than white men of the same age" – pjc50 Jul 12 '16 at 14:06
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    @pjc50 Probably want to add that link into your answer, and tweak it from "the majority" to "disproportionately", because it's still only 15% of all deaths, it's just that that's staggeringly high for a population that's only 2% of the citizenship. – deworde Jul 12 '16 at 14:57
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    @deworde I think your stats are off. The US population is ~12% black, and at least in 2015 among all people killed by police around 25% were black. This doesn't disprove your point, just a point of information. – lazarusL Jul 12 '16 at 15:27
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    @lazarusL Ah, I was going off the link, which on closer inspection focuses on a subset of the AA population. As you say, the additional information doesn't particularly weaken the high-level conclusion. – deworde Jul 12 '16 at 15:31

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