Most people who post or cry “All Lives Matter” in response to the “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) slogan are, I think, either obtuse or bigoted. What “Black Live Matter” really means is “Black Lives Matter Too“—that African-Americans are marginalized in society. That is, despite the big gains in civil rights over the last fifty years, there is still residual racism in society, and sometimes it’s among the police.
I don’t know whether white police are any more bigoted than white Americans in general, but when a policeman is bigoted (I’ll use the masculine term since women are rarely involved in the inflammatory incidents), it can have far more serious consequences than if a regular citizen is bigoted. The police have power, and they’re armed.
In general, “All lives matter,” then, has the effect of dismissing the justifiable accusations of bigotry raised by the BLM movement. While I often disagree with that movement’s tactics, and feel that they’ve unfairly tarred American police as a whole, I think in the main BLM has called needed attention to bigotry on the part of some police, and, in the case of my city, of the Chicago’s tendency to cover up what seem to be racially motivated murders by the police. Without outside pressure, there would be little examination, and any needed reform, of police departments.
Now there are some folks who say “All lives matter” or “Blue lives matter” (the latter to support police who are themselves targets) as a general sign of compassion, and aren’t dismissing the concerns of African-Americans. But I think such people are few compared to those who use those phrases to minimize the concerns of black people.
Which brings us to the case of Rohini Sethi, vice-president of the University of Houston’s (UH’s) Student Government Association (SGA). Sethi is a chemical engineering major and of Indian ancestry, which, I suppose, qualifies her as a “person of color.” But that didn’t help after Sethi put up a Facebook post following the shooting of five Dallas Police Officers (See reports on this story at various places, including here, here, here, here, and here; they’re mostly, but not all, from conservative websites). Here’s Rohini’s post, which was removed when the outcry began but archived by offended students:
Although this may have been meant in a spirit of expansive empathy, it was surely unwise, especially for a student government officer. However, the ensuing fracas was, I think, disproportionate. Here’s a bit of the outcry (quotes below are taken from the five sources above):
Wesley Okereke, a psychology senior and the UH NAACP president, said he hopes that the University and SGA will “respond to the issue accordingly.”
“I am deeply disappointed in the comments made by our student body VP, Rohini Sethi,” Okereke said. “To say, ‘Forget #BlackLivesMatter,’ as if we were not a factor in her getting voted into office is a slap in the face to the entire student body. Also, with this school being the No. 2 most diverse university in the nation, comments such as these are unacceptable because it misrepresents the large minority student body here at UH.”
. . . For accounting senior Alexis Sanders, Sethi’s words weren’t just harsh, they were incendiary. She doesn’t feel like Sethi can fully represent her, and therefore, shouldn’t be in student government.
“Being a black woman, her comment was an insensitive, disgusting, thoughtless, and blatantly disrespectful remark,” Sanders said. “Her comment proved she lacks sympathy for her constituents, and if she lacks sympathy for a portion of the students she represents, then she cannot represent the student body as whole. To say, ‘Forget #BlackLivesMatter,” is to say forget all the injustices we face and have faced for years as an African-American race. We are just supposed to simply forget systematic racism, unjust sentences, police brutality and the unlawful killings of the African-American race.”
Rohini apologized profusely and at length, both to a local television station and on Facebook, saying that “I’m very sorry to my community and for the emotions, anger, and pain that I caused.” (Go here to see her full contrition.)
I would have thought that the apology would be enough. But no, the hounds were already baying for blood. Nothing short of a strict and public punishment would do.
There followed a #RemoveRohini hashtag movement, but that would be difficult: removing an SGA officer requires not only a 3/4 vote of the SGA, but also a trial by the student Supreme Court. Therefore the SGA voted on a unprecedented special bill to allow its President, Shane Smith, to decide unilaterally on Rohini’s punishment. Smith’s letter outlines these five sanctions (summarized below by the Daily Caller):
- A 50-day suspension from SGA starting August 1. This suspension will be unpaid (she currently receives a stipend of about $700 a month).
- A requirement to attend a three-day diversity workshop in mid-August.
- A requirement to attend three “UH cultural events” each month from September through March, excluding December.
- An order to write a “letter of reflection” about how her harmful actions have impacted SGA and the UH student body
- An order to put on a public presentation Sept. 28 detailing “the knowledge she has gained about cultural issues facing our society.”
I would have thought that, although Rohini’s posting was unwise for a student representative, her apology would suffice. It’s for sure that, given the outcry, she would never have said anything like that again!
But the punishment seems draconian—almost Orwellian—in its requirement that Rohini be “rehabilitated”. Remember, she not only has to go to 21 cultural events as well as attend a diversity workshop, but she is also suspended for nearly two months and, as well as having to write her “letter of reflection,” must make a public pronouncement of contrition. I find that unconscionable: it’s like putting her in the stocks for public shaming. Only the hurling of rotten vegetables is missing. And this is came from the Facebook post above.
I frown on those who say things like “All Lives Matter,” but perhaps Rohini was acting in the heat of her sorrow for the slain cops, and isn’t really a bigot. Motives do matter—except to the Offended Crowd for whom words are sufficient to put you beyond the pale. Say the wrong words, and you’re expelled, forever to be a figure of denigration and suspicion.