What does it mean when being pro black is enough to accuse you of being anti-police?
For Beyoncé and her fans, it means that officers of the law are calling for boycotts of the singer’s concerts because of what they perceive to be an attack on law enforcement in the music video for her latest single, Formation. As reported by CNN, the boycott would involve officers refusing to work paid, off-duty security for the event.
The boycott, which began with the Miami Fraternal Order of Police and has gained support in Nashville, Tenn. as well as Tampa, Fla., has forced law enforcement across the country to weigh in on what Black Lives Matter means to those who protect and serve.
Critics of the music video take exception to its Black Lives Matter theme, as well as Beyoncé’s Super Bowl 50 backup dancers’ outfits inspired by the Black Panther Party. At one point in the video, a young, hooded black boy dances in front of a line of police officers before the words “Stop Shooting Us” appear on a wall. There were no references to violence against police officers.
According to the National Sheriffs’ Association, Beyoncé’s “anti-police entertainment” is responsible for the deaths of four police officers. Also reported by CNN, a sheriff in Tennessee suggested that Beyoncé’s halftime show performance may be responsible for shots fired outside of his home. Blaming an artist for the tragic and senseless murders of law enforcement is a scapegoat attempt, and a tactless one at that.
In no way did Beyoncé’s plea that law enforcement “Stop Shooting Us” ask that citizens “Start Shooting Them.” To imply the assertion that black lives matter means that the lives of cops do not matter says more about the police than Beyoncé ever did.
It is only within a project of anti-black policing and systemic racism that black lives and law enforcement would operate within such a damning dichotomy. Police unions boycotting events where their services would bear clear merit to the public good is a dangerous trend, especially when the basis of such boycotts is the gross misinterpretation of a social justice framework.
The mischaracterization of the Black Panther Party as anti-police is yet another example of this misinterpretation. The Panthers are known for arming themselves in self-defense, a move that many categorized as violent during the Black Power movement. The Panther party, founded in Oakland, Calif. during Oct. 1966, was forced to police the police at a time when racialized brutality was both rampant and accepted. It is a disservice to police officers who perform their jobs without participating in brutality to call the Panthers anti-police.
This boycott does nothing for improved relations between police and the public. Further, it means that black artists exercising creative license without ever encouraging violence can expect their craft to be perceived as a threat or campaign against law enforcement.
In the wake of the powerful messages sent by both Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar at major popular culture events, this notion is worrisome to say the least. Black artists need to retain agency over the messages they spread. While recourse at an intellectual level is to be expected, withholding protection at concerts is not an acceptable response to an ideology that you disagree with. We must stop allowing pro-black action to be accepted as perceived threat.
At a keynote address for the 2016 Nation of Islam’s (NOI) Saviour’s Day, Louis Farrakhan vowed that the Fruit of Islam, the NOI’s security sector, would fill the void left behind by the boycott. Much like the Panthers, the Nation is forced to act on behalf of black Americans when police forces fail us.
Like many of their fellow Americans, some police officers are unable to understand how their lives can matter while black lives matter. When being pro-black is enough to accuse you of being anti-police, it sends a message that the agency and liberation of black bodies runs counter to our law enforcement’s duty to protect and serve.
Haddiyyah Ali is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.