To Counterprotest or to be Counterproductive?

By Jasanee Killins

Black Lives Matter is nothing new. The existence of the movement, not the organization, has been on America’s mind since 2013, preemptively showing up after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. At the time, I was only in the fifth grade, completely speechless and confused by the pain and frustration brewing around me. It was then I had to receive “the talk” from my parents; not the awkwardly anticipated discussion of proverbial birds and bees, but the long and harrowing one about the black community, its relationship with law enforcement and the constantly silenced issue of police brutality.

It was a discussion regarding how significant it is to remember people from Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Philando Castile to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Nowadays, one could arguably say Jacob Blake is in the same boat as Rodney King.

With that being said, where do other groups come in? What part do they play in this discussion?

All Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. White Lives Matter. Each one acts as a symbol of counterprotest [protests organized in opposition to another group or assembly based on whatever stance they take] against Black Lives Matter.

Photo by Kiera Williams from March on Washington 2020

These groups are fairly acknowledged, but what purpose do they serve? None. The following groups don’t serve a true purpose whatsoever without action from Black Lives Matter; otherwise, their involvement falls flat on the radar for little to no reason. As someone who has followed the relationship between Black Lives Matter and its opposition since I was a child, I find it pointless to even treat them like actual movements when their methods and lack of consistency speak volumes to how ineffectual their platforms have been.

It begins with All Lives Matter. All Lives Matter originated as a partially “half-glass full”, partially passive-aggressive response to Black Lives Matter roughly around the same time BLM was founded. Under the assumption that the movement favored black lives over others, its original message stated black people weren’t the only ones facing injustice in America. Additional views from All Lives Matter suggests Black Lives Matter should focus on gun violence within the black community, other victims of police brutality regardless of race and the highly generalized argument of “black-on-black” crime, or simply violent crime committed against a black person by another black person.

This slogan-turned-movement is frequently affiliated with other Anti-BLM bodies such as Back the Blue, Blue Lives Matter and White Lives Matter. What appeared to be an understandable response at face value eventually revealed itself as a baseless, inactive retaliation to activism. Despite arguing that Black Lives Matter doesn’t aid the black community through its actions, All Lives Matter has done little, if not nothing at all, to bring their message into fruition outside of sporadic counterprotests and skewing their arguments through conservative favoritism.

Furthermore, what I have witnessed from real life conversations to online discussions is how a considerable amount of All Lives Matter and other counterprotesting advocates tend to weaponize deaths. Through this, advocates take a recent death in wake of any climate regarding Black Lives Matter and use it as ammunition against the movement. After doing so, listings or acknowledgements of these victims are very seldomly

seen again within their platforms.

For instance, let’s take into account their reactions to Cannon Hinnant, a young death hitting too close to home in North Carolina. On August 9th of this year, five-year-old Cannon Hinnant was riding his bike within his neighborhood when his neighbor Darrius Sessoms shot him at point blank range. Outrage towards the shooting of Hinnant is more than understandable, especially from the standpoint of residents of Winston, NC where the child lived. However, misinformation carried out by counterprotesting platforms, conservative bloggers and their supporters turned the case upside down.

First, it was stated that Hinnant was not receiving any media attention on his case. Not only since he was a white child instead of a black child, Hinnant’s killer being a black man factored into this as well. This was perceived as a racial issue by those speaking on his death, specifically who happened to be against Black Lives Matter. The truth of the situation is Hinnant’s murder received coverage from The AP, ABC News, WRAL News, The News & Observer, CNN, Fox News and many other news outlets. Some of which produced stories no longer than three or four days after the event. On top of that, his own parents have stated that his death is not a racial issue. That alone is a hard rumor to prove when criminal investigators have yet to find a proper motive for his death.

Second, these same people like to press the issue of him being a child victim despite not even acknowledging the shooting deaths of other children like Tamir Rice and Aiyana Mo’nay Stanley-Jones, neither of whom got the quick degree of justice for their deaths as Hinnant received.

Sessoms was arrested and held without bond a day after the shooting. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by Timothy Loehmann in 24, yet the only action taken against the police officer was firing him three years later. Seven-year-old Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley-Jones was shot and killed by a SWAT team member in 2010; instead of holding the police department accountable for her death, the city of Detroit paid off her family with a settlement of $8.25 million. However, this settlement was not established until 2019. The officer responsible for her death, Joseph Weekley, was charged with her murder but faced multiple mistrials ending in his freedom from the case. In the year she was shot, we were only a few months apart in age; had it not been for the recklessness of others, she could’ve been a college student by now. In chilling retrospect, I could’ve been Stanley-Jones under any possibility and vice versa.

To push the narrative that Hinnant’s case isn’t discussed due to him being white is far from simple ignorance—it’s downright deplorable.

Why push this narrative in the first place when their main philosophy is that race shouldn’t matter in the topic of American lives? If it shouldn’t be a concern, why make that the focus of Hinnant’s case rather than his death overall?

Photo by Kiera Williams from March on Washington 2020

As stated previously, it is a part of many counterprotesting groups’ method in demonizing Black Lives Matter without actually looking into the issues they’ve addressed. Hinnant was a young, vulnerable child whose life ended abruptly under tragic circumstances. This is a case very similar to others covered by Black Lives Matter in the past, but the difference between his case and children memorialized by BLM is that Hinnant’s justice was immediate. It happened without a thought. For victims recognized by BLM, their killers have either walked away freely, got a slap on the wrist through paid leave or lost their job. It is exceedingly rare to see them charged and indicted for the crimes they’ve committed, let alone convicted.

However, had it not been for the remembrance of such deaths, the opposition’s agenda would never have existed in the first place. The same movement they spite and antagonize is who they owe for their relevance. Countering groups may make similar calls to action for Hinnant as BLM has done for recent victims like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but they never follow through with solid activism.

From petitions to marches, these are solely made to address social issues. While physical counterprotesting isn’t uncommon, petitions, voiced concerns to government officials and genuine content made to raise awareness are hardly ever considered by these groups. In a number of organized events, collectively addressing their values isn’t the first thing on their mind. Counterprotesters would rather taunt and harass Black Lives Matter protesters than do so. It’s not so much as a matter of working against the movement, but mocking and mistreating it when the opportunity arises.

Photo by Kiera Williams from March on Washington 2020

One must wonder: what would happen if they didn’t have Black Lives Matter to use as a crutch?

There is a fine line between bringing awareness to a tragedy and using it for your own socio-political exploits. Moreover, there is plenty of difference between representing a movement and representing hair-trigger backlash whenever another group springs into action. Both of these are points counterprotest movements fail to realize when they step onto their platforms, or lack thereof. When all one does is respond with the latter of each option, it doesn’t form a stable stance on the topic of whose life matters, who is in the right, who is in the wrong and who truly deserves justice in the cruel, unyielding world surrounding us. Instead, that stance is unbalanced and woefully predictable.

If one cannot uphold the actual demands of progress, they serve no purpose in trying to rally against it. Without Black Lives Matter, any obstruction to their cause rings a sound so hollow to the ears, one would think they’re hearing nothing at all. From what I’ve noticed throughout the summer and beyond, counterprotesters against BLM have a knack for being dog whistles instead of activists. They don’t care to work alongside their fellow Americans by educating, developing or changing the state of society; they care to silence them.

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