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OPINION: The battle of colors: #BlackLivesMatter vs. #BlueLivesMatter and Brooklyn

December 22, 2014 By Charisma L. Troiano, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Charisma L. Troiano is the legal editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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Two police officers left home this past Saturday expecting to return to their wives and families. They were focused on their beat in Bedford-Stuyvesant that day.

I am certain they did not expect to have their lives forever tied to a fight for criminal justice reform, or used as a clear case of how social media can be a tool for cultural change and simultaneously possess the very death knell to the change it is attempting to effect.

The nation has been in protest against an epidemic: the high rate of death of men of color by the hands of police officers and a criminal justice system that has displayed an institutional bias against black and brown communities (both the victims of violence and the perpetrators).

And social media has been indispensable in these grassroots, on-the-ground protests.  Within minutes of the Staten Island grand jury decision to decline an indictment against a police officer for the chokehold death of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner, the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #EricGarner were in countless messages sent over Twitter and Facebook. 

Almost immediately, the hashtag #BlueLivesMatter was as formed as a response — a means of showing solidarity with the NYPD. 

These signs of support have become viral, with Brooklyn NBA players pulling together a clandestine mission to obtain shirts with the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” (Garner’s last words) and teachers in Queens and Staten Island wearing official NYPD shirts expressing their support for law enforcement. 

But social media and the rash commercialization of expressed support has the inherent danger of fanning flames, intensifying emotions and causing supporters to sheepishly pick a side, further polarizing and obfuscating the issue and blocking any avenue of true change that has only a brief present window of chance. 

Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were assassinated by shooter Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a Georgia resident who supposedly drove to New York from Baltimore (where it is alleged he shot and mortally wounded his girlfriend) with the intent of killing a cop. 

Before his disastrous journey to Brooklyn, Brinsley posted a photo of a silver handgun on the social site Instagram, writing, “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours…Let’s Take 2 of Theirs.”

The photo was accompanied with hashtags #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGarner (sic) #RIPMike Brown.

Do black lives matter at the expense of the cops? And do blue lives matter at the expense of all others? Of course not, and anyone with a hint of human decency would agree. 

Brinsley’s bloodied and deadly acts show that picking a side and hashtagging your support of #lives takes away from the goal of this movement for change and reform.
The goal is to have a system that holds all persons — regardless of their career or racial background — who commit a criminal act accountable for their wrongdoing, and an accountability on a system that works for the justice and fairness of all who encounter it.

But that goal is now clouded. The conversation has shifted. Instead of identifying systematic flaws, discourse is transfixed on the now more immediate concern of keeping tensions calm in Brooklyn neighborhoods as a deep and thick sense of unrest layers the air between the community and patrolling NYPD officers. 

I propose a new hashtag: #Accountability. Because the issue is not about which color lives matter. 

#AllLivesMatter in a system that is held #Accountable.

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