We live in an interesting time. As I write this article, a bellicose billionaire resembling Charlie Chaplin’s character from The Great Dictator is bulldozing his way to the GOP presidential nomination; meanwhile, Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson is running for the mayor of Baltimore.
The past few years have been particularly tense for race relations not only in Maryland, but also in the rest of the United States. The deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and many others at the hands of local authorities have spurred natioal outrage and sparked protests against police brutality and systemic oppression against the black community.
Enter Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. She performed part of her new song, “Formation” during the Super Bowl halftime show on Feb. 7, joining Bruno Mars and headliner Coldplay.
This song is meant to be an empowering anthem for African-American women. When Beyoncé boasts, “I got hot sauce in my bag, swag” she’s taking a stereotype and owning it with panache.
Towards the end of the song’s music video, a black boy wearing a hoodie stands unarmed in front of a line of police officers in riot gear—the parallels to Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing a hoodie, are overwhelmingly evident.
As a result, it didn’t take long for conservative media outlets to find some reason to be disgusted with Beyoncé.
“In the end, we find out that Beyoncé dressed up in a tribute to the Black Panthers, went to a Malcolm X formation, and the song—the lyrics, which I couldn’t make out a single syllable—were basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks,” he said.
Fox wasn’t done with a racially-tinged critique of Beyoncé’s performance following Doocy’s comments. Sometime later during the same show, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was brought on to comment specifically on Beyoncé’s portion of the halftime show.
“It was terrible,” Giuliani’s assessment began. “This is football, not Hollywood—and I thought it was really outrageous that she used this as a platform to attack police officers, who are the people who protect her, and protect us, and keep us alive.”
“And what we should be doing—in the African-American community and in all communities—is build up respect for police officers. And focus on the fact that when something does go wrong, okay, we’ll work on that—but the vast majority of police officers risk their lives to keep us safe,” he added.
In short, the stance put forth by Fox News with respect to Beyoncé’s performance takes an affirmation of black culture and a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement as an affront against police officers. Either you are totally with the police or vehemently against them.
What Fox News has aimed to do with its coverage of Beyoncé’s performance is frame a narrative in which advocates for the Black Lives Matter movement are fervent anti-cop goons who pack heat while bumping N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police.”
It hardly needs to be argued that this mindset is wildly inaccurate.
Once more, the Black Lives Matter movement needs to be understood in the context of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner et al. For the past few years, we have seen a number of cases when local authorities have slain unarmed black citizens with dubious motivations justifying the use of deadly force. Many of these cases have not even been to trial.
It seems to me that above all else, what this movement aims to do is redress the injustice of these killings and ensure that in the eyes of the law, black lives are acknowledged as valuable. There’s nothing fundamentally anti-police in this goal. Rather, the objective seems to be holding police accountable to high standards of justice for the collective benefit of the communities they serve.
Giuliani isn’t alone in expressing his solidarity with police officers and he makes a valid point in arguing that we are indebted to the police for keeping our communities safe.
But the deaths of those who inadvertently gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement tell a different story. For people like Eric Garner, the police weren’t peacekeepers—they were executioners.
It isn’t unreasonable to demand just conduct from those who are allowed to carry guns in public as officers of the law. Under ideal conditions, police and the communities they serve collectively contribute to the well-being of society—the former by offering protection and security, and the latter by forming part of a noble society deserving of that protection.
The black community has more than just cause to demand fair policing in their neighborhoods. Beyoncé as a public figure and entertainer has more than just cause to speak out about principles that matter to her.
“Black lives matter” should be a tautology in a country that prides itself as a defender of individual rights and liberties. It shouldn’t have to be declared with vehemence that black lives matter, because our society should already acknowledge that premise as a universal truth.
But when unarmed black civilians are killed by police as regularly as has happened in recent years, people should be reminded that “black lives matter.”
Beyoncé can say it better than most people I know of, and I must give her props for it—even if those on Fox & Friends think otherwise.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.