Do Any Lives Still Matter?

by Daniel A. Rosen |

The fictional LA homicide detective Harry Bosch, penned by Michael Connelly, had a simple credo – as all good heroes do: “Either everyone matters, or no one does.” And the gut-wrenching events of late keep bringing to mind that hard-boiled noirish wisdom.

This isn’t claiming “everyone matters” in the usual retrograde “Blue Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter” sense, to undermine and negate the Black Lives Matter movement. #Blacklivesmatter came about because the world acted as if they didn’t matter for a very long time. The same can’t honestly be said about police officers or white people.

As real-life policemen make headlines by failing Harry Bosch’s simple test and a virus ravages our most vulnerable communities, people of all colors need to re-affirm this elemental truth: Everyone matters. Every unnecessary loss is a tragedy and diminishes us as a nation. And it’s time to re-commit ourselves to doing better at preventing them.

Breonna Taylor was shot in her own home by sloppy undercover cops executing a ‘no-knock’ warrant at the wrong address. Ahmaud Arbery was killed by three white vigilantes – one a former cop – while running down a residential street. George Floyd was murdered on a Minneapolis street, a white officer’s knee on his neck, echoing Eric Garner’s heartbreaking last words. Three lives that mattered, cut short – and that’s just this month’s ‘greatest hits’ of systemic racist brutality.

The hundred thousand lives we’ve lost to a virus that hunts the most vulnerable – the elderly, the chronically ill, prisoners, people of color and limited means living crowded together in marginalized communities – they mattered. They died unable to breathe too, many with the weight of decades of racist housing, health care, and employment discrimination kneeling on their necks.

Now the White House and the Senate, consumed by Trump’s re-election prospects, are acting as if corporations and the stock market matter more than these people’s sacrificed lives. All of a sudden Republicans are worried about the deficit again, and liability lawsuits, payroll tax cuts, and unemployment insurance – not real peoples’ ability to pay rent, feed their families, and access affordable health care. The proposals they’ve floated are “an insult to Americans’ intelligence and a disservice to the challenges we face with this virus,” said the Speaker of the House, neatly summarizing their callous approach.

The people partying in pools and bars in re-opened states also dishonor the memory of those lost, and put the lie to the idea that we live in community with each other, that we are responsible for one another. You don’t see many poor people of color in those pool parties – they’re probably too busy working essential jobs on the front lines in hospitals and meatpacking plants to take part.

Sure, some of those showing appalling judgement are kids, and we all remember feeling invincible at their age. But many picketing and shouting in front of statehouses are old enough to know better – to know that it’s not about their so-called “rights” being violated or personal freedoms. That’s just base selfishness dressed up in lofty words. They should just say what they mean: that they don’t care about anyone besides themselves; that mindless consumerism is more important to them than their neighbor’s family; that no one matters. “The lesser of two evils isn’t letting people die so you can shop at H&M,” as one wag noted.

There’s a lot of good works going on right now and they shouldn’t be overlooked. Food banks are stepping up to feed those who’ve never needed them before. Younger neighbors are doing the weekly grocery shopping for the elderly. Some small businesses are paying their employees though it means losing money, as they’re able.

We’ve also seen officers who commit crimes against the public they’re sworn to protect being indicted and held accountable much more often. Some jails and prisons have begun to release low-level offenders and probation violators who are at risk and didn’t need to be there in the first place.

These are the stories that sustain our faith in the power of community and light the path to a more just and equitable future. We need to bring those examples front and center, and remind ourselves that selfishness and subjugation have never made America great – they weaken the fabric of our communities and undermine our humanity.

The fact that we can collectively condemn the blatant racism displayed in Central Park against a bird-watching black man is heartening. That story might have ended very differently 75, 25, or even five years ago. Other stories in Central Park have ended badly for black men, and the advent of a video camera in every hand and on every blue uniform clearly has its upside.

Perhaps one day we’ll all start doing the right thing when the cameras aren’t recording. Maybe we’ll even start demanding leadership and policies that put people over profits, and make clear through our actions – both individually and collectively – that everyone really does matter.

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