I remember where I was when Travyon Martin’s murderer was acquitted in 2013.
And more importantly, how I felt about an unarmed Black teenager shot in cold blood, with no one held accountable. The despair was painful but eerily familiar. It was a scene that had played out too many times before in American history. But in my mind I knew, this time would be different; it had to be.
Activists and organizers banded together to force a conversation about the violence that is regularly inflicted on Black people in this country. From the sweat, tears, and labor of that conversation, a familiar rallying cry was born: Black Lives Matter.
Even closer to home, Chicago’s Black community and allies again echoed this rallying cry when Laquan McDonald was killed, shot sixteen times, by a police officer in 2014. While his killer was convicted, he was recently released from prison after serving just 40 months.
Black Lives Matter is both an urgent statement of fact and a demand: affirming the humanity of Black people and our immeasurable contributions to society while working towards a world where Black lives are no longer systematically deemed expendable.
It’s why I was so disturbed to see Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin announce his candidacy for Governor, on Martin Luther King Jr. day nonetheless, and immediately spew the apathetically hateful retort we have heard far too often in response to the movement: All Lives Matter.
What if, when your house was on fire, the fire department responded, “but all houses matter”?
What if, when your town suffers a tragedy, the response is, “but all towns matter”?
Black Lives Matter is not exclusionary. It is an acknowledgment that is necessary because historically, our lives have not mattered to those who would rather we didn’t exist as anything more than a commodity. This is upsetting to hear from anyone, let alone a Black man and a candidate for governor.
It is patently unacceptable, cold, and timid to try to stand on both sides of one of the most consequential issues of our time. But movements built on and sustained by the unforgiving fight for equality, won’t be cheapened even, by those who try to make us doubt our own realities. All Lives Matter is a statement that ignores those realities and serves to negate the story of where we have been, in hopes of impeding the road to where we are going.
My grandfather, a 1918 Mississippi-born Baptist preacher marched with Dr. King and the dignity they demanded 60 years ago didn’t leave space for ideological malleability and we should not allow that today.
When a politician who once said he “strongly and passionately” supported the Black Lives Matter movement finds himself claiming All Lives Matter, ask why.
When a candidate for governor tries to raise money on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with that same message, challenge him.
When a local leader demonizes Black people for standing up for their humanity and peacefully protesting, remember. Remember how loud and painful these dog whistles sound and remember the people they are trying to court.
It should not be hard to say, unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter. This moment in history demands we elect leaders with conviction and tenacity. Those who are unwilling and unable to see our fight through to the finish line, and to see our humanity are not deserving of our vote.
Chairman Fred Hampton once said we should form coalitions with anyone who had a revolution in mind. One of his exceptions to this rule? Opportunists.
Kam Buckner is a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives from the 26th District and the chair of the House Legislative Black Caucus.