YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
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July 2016

By Paula Penebaker, President & CEO, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

All Lives Don't Matter Equally

A lot has been made of Milwaukee.


Fanny Lou Hamer’s lament, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” resonates with me every time I hear someone say “ALL lives matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. I am sick of hearing that statement that’s intended to tell black people to go somewhere and shut up.

If all lives matter, why was Dylan Roof, given a ride to Burger King following his brief period on the lam after he murdered nine black people in a church? I do not believe a black man would have been taken into custody alive after shooting nine God-fearing white people in church, let alone been offered a meal before being taken to jail.

If all lives matter, why wasn’t George Zimmerman convicted of killing Travon Martin when he followed him after having been told explicitly not to follow the young man? I shudder to think what the outcome would be if a strange white man were to get killed by a homeowner invoking the Castle doctrine in Milwaukee’s small black Halyard Park enclave.

If all lives matter, why did Sandra Bland die in her jail cell three days after she was stopped for failure to use her signal for a lane change? Would that have happened to a white woman? Historical treatment of white women as treasured possessions suggests not.

If all lives matter, why was it necessary to call the police because a black man was sleeping in Red Arrow Park? Was he creating mischief while he slept? Was he harassing the Starbucks employee? Twice police determined he was not doing anything wrong. Unfortunately, the third time was Dontre’s unlucky charm. My daughter tells me I act pretty aggressive when I’m awakened suddenly, harshly. Note to self: Don’t fall asleep in a public park.

If all lives matter, why was 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s family told in the city of Cleveland’s response to their wrongful death lawsuit that his death was his own fault because he failed “to exercise due care to avoid injury”? Seriously. Timothy Loehman, a man deemed unfit to serve on one force yet hired by the Cleveland Police Department, shot the child within two seconds of arriving at the park where Tamir was playing with a pellet gun.

If all lives matter, why were Alton Sterling and Philando Castile shot like a rabid dog in the street and a fish in a barrel, in front of a four-year-old child, no less?

Christian religious teaching tells us that God loves everyone; that we’re all beautiful in his eyes; that all of us matter. Regular church goers say they believe that, but many will provide an explanation, for each one the aforementioned examples, that suggests an “if-only” reason to justify the injustice: If only Sandra Bland had kept her mouth shut; if only Travon Martin hadn’t been wearing that scary hoody; if only Tamir hadn’t been playing with that gun; if only Philando Castile hadn’t had the gun he was licensed to carry and told the policeman he had. It’s simply maddening.

ALL lives do not matter equally. Stop saying it; it’s not true. It hasn’t been true since any of us came to this land. If you don’t believe me, ask the few descendants of the indigenous people that were here before ANY OF US arrived.

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The 2038 Racial Justice Blog includes monthly insight from YWCA staff and community members working for a more just and equitable Milwaukee. Learn more about our 2038 goal.