On the other side of the thin blue line was evidence of profound brutality against police — many of them, like Goodman, Black — by the insurrectionists, almost all of them White. An officer screaming in agony while being crushed by the mob in a doorway. Audio of officers frantically calling for backup as rioters advanced. An officer beaten with an American flag. All in all, 140 police were injured that day. One officer, Brian D. Sicknick of the Capitol Police, died from his injuries. Two more officers died by suicide in the aftermath.
For years, many of us have been saying that Blue Lives Matter wasn’t really about protecting officers and their families but about protecting the right to use White violence against those who call for Black dignity and resistance to white supremacy. If we were wrong, surely the movement would be leading the charge against all those — from former president Donald Trump on down — responsible for putting so many blue lives in harm’s way.
That hasn’t happened, of course. This week, #BlueLivesMatter was trending on Twitter as Black commentators pointed out the hypocrisy. “The Blue Lives Matter folks have been eerily quiet since January 6, 2021,” legal analyst Midwin Charles tweeted late Tuesday. “Given that the @GOP doesn’t actually give a damn when white people murder cops,” wrote the Nation’s Elie Mystal, “can we just all agree that the ‘blue lives matter’ crowd was really just saying ‘black lives DON’T matter’ the entire goddamn time?”
For damning detail, read Emmanuel Felton’s account for Buzzfeed of how protesters with police badges and “Blue Lives Matter” flags attacked and hurled racist invective at Black officers. “You have the nerve to be holding a Blue Lives Matter flag, and you are out there f---ing us up,” one Black officer said to protesters.
As a formulation in reactionary response to Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter was always obvious code for the centuries-old American assertion of a right to control and destroy Black lives so that White America can continue to hold its place — along with all the rewards that come with it — at the top of America’s racial order.
Let us stipulate: There are plenty of police officers — of all races — around the country who hold a genuine desire to serve and protect their communities. There are plenty who understand that wielding the police badge is a privilege and responsibility, and who do their best every day to do right. Indeed, that’s what we saw at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and that’s also why the officers who put their lives on the line to defend the work of Congress deserve so much better than empty sloganeering.
If Blue Lives Matter were sincere, its supporters would be delivering support to the officers who suffered physical and psychological trauma during the attack. They would be calling out those current and former officers who participated in mob violence that claimed the lives of three of their peers. They would be vociferously honoring Goodman. None of this is happening.
That tells you enough, but in reliving the traumatic events of Jan. 6 there is also the reminder of how Trump and his “law and order” Republican Party labeled Black Lives Matter protesters “thugs” and “terrorists,” while the Capitol insurrectionists were “very special.” For four years, Trump and the GOP embraced Blue Lives Matter ideology and symbolism. Trump flew the Blue Lives Matter flag during rallies, and, indeed, some of the nation’s powerful law-enforcement unions embraced Trump back — the NYPD union broke with tradition and endorsed Trump for president last year.
As investigations continue into the participants and instigators of the Capitol riot, it shouldn’t be forgotten that white self-styled militias and extremist groups pose the biggest domestic terrorism threat to American lives. In September, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), chair of the House subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties (and the lead House impeachment manager), held a remote hearing about the threat posed by extremist creep in the military and police — which, he emphasized, poses significant risks not only to marginalized communities but also to law-enforcement officers themselves.
Over the next few days, Americans will learn whether the GOP and Trump will evade consequences for inciting an attack on our democracy. But regardless of that outcome, no one has any excuse for ever again taking Blue Lives Matter supporters seriously when they pretend to care about law and order.