Many politicians have taken up the rallying cry of “all lives matter” to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement for focusing on specific injustices done to African Americans. During a criminal justice panel discussion with Police Chief Charlie Beck of the LAPD and Editor-in-Chief Bill Keller of the Marshall Project on Thursday afternoon, President Barack Obama took on that claim and explained why “black lives matter” is an important statement.
“I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase “black lives matter” was not because they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter,” he said. “What they were suggesting was, there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.”
But the meaning of the phrase has been perverted by media pundits and some members of law enforcement, who argue that it is inflammatory rhetoric. The phrases “all lives matter” and “blue lives matter” sprang up in direct response to activists who have mobilized against police brutality and attacks on black lives.
“It started being lifted up as ‘these folks are opposed to police, and they’re opposed to cops, and all lives matter.’ So the notion was somehow saying black lives matter was reverse racism, or suggesting other people’s lives didn’t matter or police officers’ lives didn’t matter,” he said.
Obama then pointed out that saying “black lives matter” is not about reducing the importance of other groups.
“I think everybody understands all lives matter. Everybody wants strong, effective law enforcement. Everybody wants their kids to be safe when they’re walking to school. Nobody wants to see police officers, who are doing their jobs fairly, hurt,” he continued.
Today, black lives matter is not just a rallying cry. Due to activists’ efforts to elevate the conversation about police brutality against black communities, the conversation has become a main talking point in the 2015–2016 election cycle. During the first Democratic debate, candidates were asked, “do black lives matter or do all lives matter?”