Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush dismissed the backlash over “all lives matter” remarks as a politically correct overreaction at a campaign stop in Lancaster, New Hampshire on Thursday.
He was referring to an event at Netroots Nation last weekend, when Black Lives Matter activists disrupted an event with Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, who said, “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” He later apologized for the remarks.
Bush said firmly that the former Maryland governor should not have apologized.
“No, for crying out loud, no. We’re so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying lives matter?” Bush said. “Life is precious. It’s a gift from God. I frankly think that it’s one of the most important values that we have. I know that in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No.”
The former Florida governor went on to suggest that those who use the phrase “Black Lives Matter” believe that white lives do not.
“If [O’Malley] believes that white lives matter, which I hope he does, then he shouldn’t apologize to a group that seemed to disagree with it,” Bush said, in video provided by trackers from the progressive super PAC American Bridge 21st Century.
The idea that Black Lives Matter activists affirmatively believe that white people’s lives do not matter is a common retort in online conversations where the group’s members or sympathizers deploy the slogan.
It also misses the point of the phrase entirely. The three words have resonated so widely over the past year because so many prominent news stories have illustrated the extreme vulnerability of African Americans in the United States, especially in interactions with police.
Cell phone video showed unarmed Walter Scott being shot in the back several times by a South Carolina officer who was eventually charged with murder after the video contradicted his initial story. Another video from last fall showed a South Carolina state trooper suddenly shooting Levar Jones, who had begun reaching for his driver’s license in response to the officer asking to see his ID. Sandra Bland died under still-mysterious circumstances in a Texas jail cell after being arrested by an officer who grew angry when she refused to put out a cigarette during a traffic stop, and now preliminary autopsy reports have ruled her death a suicide. When a New York City police officer shot and killed unarmed Akai Gurley in a darkened stairwell during a type of foot patrol that his superiors had specifically instructed officers to stop conducting, he contacted his union representative before calling for an ambulance for Gurley. Eric Garner was strangled to death by another NYPD officer last summer after Garner tried to push away the hands of officers who had stopped him for selling untaxed cigarettes.
These names are just a fraction of the total. At protests going back to 2014, activists from Black Lives Matter and other recently-launched organizations have at times struggled to make signs big enough to contain all the names of prominent black victims of police violence. Amid a paucity of credible data on police shootings, The Washington Post has created a shootings tracker that shows 542 people have been shot and killed by police so far in 2015, with 55 of them being unarmed at the time of the killing.
The apparent devaluing of black life in such stories, and the contrast between how white people and people of color are treated by law enforcement officers, has rendered the assertion that “Black Lives Matter” necessary for many activists.
Others have recently explained why the response that O’Malley offered, and that Bush asserted even more strongly on Thursday, is misguided. “#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean other lives don’t. Like people who say ‘Save The Rainforests’ aren’t saying ‘Fuck All Other Types of Forests’,” Orange Is The New Black actor Matt McGorry tweeted Sunday. A recent reddit post laying out the same basic observation in five paragraphs has gone viral. The dismissive retort has even gotten the full explainer treatment from Vox.
Asked for his sense of what motivates Black Lives Matter protesters, Bush declined to answer. “I’m not, uh, I wasn’t invited to Netroots, y’know, so,” Bush said, trailing off. At that point in the video, an aide jumps in to say “Alright, thanks guys,” apparently ending the press availability.