Why Richard Sherman Was Wrong About #BlackLivesMatter

Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman answers a question at a news conference for NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game, Wednesday, J
Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman answers a question at a news conference for NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, in Phoenix. The Seahawks play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt York)

One Wednesday, Seattle Seahawks corner Richard Sherman held a press conference to offer his thoughts on police brutality and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Sherman is one of the most articulate and outspoken athletes in professional sports. He chimes in national discussions of social issues more than most of his peers, and its unafraid to breach many touchy subject (for example, his expounding on how the word "thug" has been coded and used as a racialized dog-whistle). But quite frankly, his thoughts on the #BlackLivesMatter as a movement were not only counterproductive, but wrong.

Sherman's thoughts on this extremely polarized debate were disheartening to many, because they relied on overgeneralized and ahistorical base assumptions about crime within the Black community, and the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The common rhetoric of "Black people need to worry about their community first" is a disingenuous assumption, whether it comes from within or without the Black community. Without delving specifically in the anti-Black implications of even using the term "Black-on-Black crime", phrases like these imply that problems need to be solved in sequential order. Once Black people stop killing each other, the police will stop killing them as well. But one does not coincide with the other. One is crime between citizens, the other is crime between the state and citizens.

This Black Apathy narrative is not just a misconception, but it is an ahistorical depiction of the Black community's attitude towards inner-city violence. Like many other critics of BLM, Sherman offered a variation of "where are the ‪#‎Blacklivesmatter‬ people when a black person kills another black person?" These issues are not the same, and to conflate them is a terrible mistruth.

To Sherman and others, there are Black women and men who dedicate their entire lives to responding to these crimes. In my hometown of Chicago, there are ground-level organizations like Cease Fire, Cure Violence, Stop The Violence, and others trying to end the senseless violence in the Black community. Many of these organizations do their work on a volunteer basis and receive meager contributions from anyone outside of the Black community. If you drive around Chicago, you will see them patrolling neighborhoods. And there aren't many Black neighborhoods where a "Don't Shoot" or "Stop the Violence" sign is not visible. Whether the Black communities efforts is working or not is a separate debate, but in terms of whether or not the effort is present, there is no debate to be had.

The reason the outrage between violence committed by Blacks against each other and police killing them appears to be "different" (less or more, depending on who you ask) is more because of the outcome than the problem. When Black criminals kill others in their community, the police find them and they go to prison, serving the maximum sentence (since Blacks tend to be given longer sentences than other races). But when police officers (who work for the state and are sworn to protect and serve) kill Black people, most don't even skip a paycheck. So the reasons why it may appear that Black people "aren't as mad" when Blacks kill other Blacks is because at least in those instances, justice is served.

None of this is to imply that a mere general sentimentality will cure the social ills placed in and created in the Black community. None of this is to infer that inner-city violence is not an issue that needs to be dealt with without a moment to spare. As someone from the south-side of Chicago, I have no illusions about who is helping and who is not. But for anyone assuming that Black people don't care about Black lives because some choose to settle petty conflicts through violence, that assumption is false. And there is no adequate synonym for it. It is false.

Sherman's words also highlight the disconnect between people's perception of the BLM and what it actually represents. Black Lives Matter is a leaderless, collective response to the killing of Black people by the police. It has one agenda: to assert the idea that America should value the life of its Black citizens just as much as any others. BLM may seem untimely, but police officers killing unarmed suspects is not a new thing (which Sherman alluded to). Mobile technology has allowed us to document these instances to more accurately depict this horrendous trend. The collective outrage and push-against respectability politics is a testament of the boiling-over of the relationship between Black citizens and those whose jobs is to serve and protect all Americans. Black Lives Matter does not want more death, it wants more justice.

Sherman also issues an iteration of "where is the media or #BlackLivesMatter when Black people kill each other?"

Those of us who don't "see" the outrage from Black people about violence in their community, we either need to stay privy through a wider set of news outlets, visit a Black community, or make sure we have at least one Black friend, particularly one from a lower socioeconomic background. We should also attend an anti-violence program in your area, and see for ourselves see who cares and who does not. It takes more of a collective effort to bring the change that we want to see. There are enough armchair politicians and philosopher saying what Black people "should" do, who have not and have no intention of helping Black people more than a general fluff about how "we are all human beings".

Sherman's comments also connect to a different issue of mainstream media: the conflict, not the solution or people trying to end it, drives ratings. So called "Black on Black" crime is one of the most reported things on local news channels across the country. Several studies have shown that crime is a main impetus driving local news ratings and coverage, particularly racialized crime. Some statistics have shown that even in places where crime has decreased (like New York or Chicago), the local media continued the rate or increased their coverage of crime. In addition to this, there have been several large anti-violence rallies in major American cities like Oakland, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore, D.C. and more. If you were a faithful viewer of local news, it would seem as if a camera is present especially when a Black person kills another Black person. But it isn't there to cover any rally against "Black-on-Black crime."

In general, Sherman's words evoke very broad misconceptions about the Black Lives Matter movement. They place burdens on an monolithic Black community for respectability and self-agency in country that does not live up to the creed "All Lives Matter". Violent crime within the Black community is a problem. Those who are passionate about eliminating it have and will be on the frontlines. But Sherman and many others' investment in respectability politics is a gross over-simplification of the multi-layered issue of police brutality, the reason why so many are taking to the streets to yell "Black Lives Matter!"