Locals in Milwaukee found their city turned upside down overnight as rioters set fire to local businesses, destroyed police cars and threw rocks at the police, injuring one officer on Saturday night. Rioters were protesting the police shooting of an armed black man and were captured on video shouting “black power.” Following Saturday night’s violence, several people — mostly white men — have used the Milwaukee riots to justify racist comments on Twitter, insisting the Black Lives Matter movement is full of “terrorists.” Given that we need #BlackLivesMatter more than ever right now, in this current time of racial inequality in the United States, that’s just not OK.
#Milwaukee all I see in this hashtag are angry racists, speaking out about a city they've never cared about
— Eliana (@XoxoElianaX) August 14, 2016
For instance, one man tweets: “Congrats #BLM for once again acting like violent barbarians. You’ve proven your point: you’re violent, racist, scum.” Another white guy tweets: “#BLM is an awful group. They only encourage hatred and division.”
It’s distressing to see how many people are dismissing the Black Lives Matter movement following the Milwaukee riots, ignorantly labeling it a terrorist organization, given how needed Black Lives Matter’s message still is. The Black Lives Matter movement explicitly states on its website that it is working toward peace: “We are committed to embodying and practicing justice, liberation and peace in our engagements with one another.”
While there’s no justification for destroying local businesses and we should oppose violence in all its forms, the frustration many feel in Milwaukee stems from a deep place and is understandable. Milwaukee is the most racially segregated city in America, and its black residents face a slew of disadvantages. When it comes to education, black children face serious setbacks — Wisconsin has the biggest achievement gap of any in the country, according to NAEP testing data. And black men in Milwaukee are also more likely than white men to spend time behind bars; by the time they enter their 30s and 40s, over half have served time, according to a report by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
After the Milwaukee riots, the Black Lives Matter movement is facing increased criticism. Co-founders Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi spoke at the BlogHer15: Experts Among Us conference about launching the movement to channel their grief and anger when George Zimmerman, the man accused of shooting teenager Trayvon Martin in 2013, was found not guilty. Tometi spoke about the fact that they’re often critiqued for focusing on black lives, not all lives. “We know that all lives matter, we’re well aware of that,” she said. “But the reality is that anti-black violence is killing our people and it’s undermining our lives at every corner, and we have to get very real and precise about what is taking place.”
Don’t use the Milwaukee riots as an excuse to dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement and its positive aim of ending the racial inequality and oppression black people still face in the United States. Instead, non-black people have the opportunity to be allies and support Black Lives Matter’s commitment to positive values such as restorative justice, diversity and building strong families.