By George Curry
Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly escalated his ongoing attack on the Black Lives Matter Movement by asserting without a hint of evidence that if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive, he would not support the group.
“With all due respect to President Obama, well-meaning activists do not associate themselves with a group that often commits violent acts, and encourages violence through irresponsible rhetoric. Dr. King would not participate in a Black Lives Matter protest,” he said in a Fox News commentary.
First, Black Lives Matter does not, contrary to O’Reilly’s assertion, often commit violent acts or encourage violence through what he characterized as irresponsible rhetoric. He is part of the crowd that thinks the chant of “Black Lives Matter” should be discarded in favor of “All Lives Matter.”
Forever trying to bridge the gap between Blacks and Whites, President Obama explained the nuances associated with the phrase.
“I think it’s important for us to also understand that the phrase ‘black lives matter’ simply refers to the notion that there’s a specific vulnerability for African Americans that needs to be addressed,” he told a gathering of enforcement officials, civil rights leaders, elected officials and activists recently in Washington, D.C. “We shouldn’t get too caught up in this notion that somehow people who are asking for fair treatment are somehow, automatically, anti-police, are trying to only look out for Black lives as opposed to others. I think we have to be careful about playing that game.
It’s a game O’Reilly plays well, which is why he has the gall to claim that Dr. King would not support the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Credible civil rights leaders strongly disagree.
Bernard LaFayette, Jr., who worked with Dr. King as a field organizer and now chairs the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization Dr. King co-founded, said: “Dr. King supported the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] so it stands to reason that he would support Black Lives Matter as long as they practice nonviolence.”
Rep. John Lewis knows that from first-hand experience. As chairman of the upstart SNCC, he participated in numerous marches with Dr. King, including the 1963 March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery, Ala. March that led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Lewis has praised the Black Lives Matter Movement and quoted Dr. King, as he did at a recent protest in the Capitol, by saying, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
O’Reilly, never a King supporter, opposes many of the things Dr. King fought for during his lifetime, including affirmative action. Nothing in his background qualifies him to be an expert on what Dr. King would say or do if he were still alive.
Those who are active in the Civil Rights Movement today have no doubt that Dr. King would be supportive of the young people who make up the core of Black Lives Matter.
“Dr. King would enthusiastically embrace the philosophy and activism which inspires Black Lives Matter because every life matters,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “The continuing disparities and unequal treatment most apparent in but not limited to the police/community relations and the criminal justice system demonstrates that all lives have not mattered equally.
“Black Lives Matter sends a powerful wake-up call to our nation in the same way that a young Dr. King activist of the 50s and 60s shook the foundation of the segregated South.”
This was not the first time O’Reilly has disparaged Black Lives Matter.
On July 8, he told Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau chief of the NAACP: “I think that if you really want, if African Americans really want to bring the country together and have good racial relations, they have to distance themselves from Black Lives Matter.”
Instead of doing that, Shelton distanced himself from O’Reilly’s advice.
“I believe in my conversations with leaders of Black Lives Matter, and even my participation in a demonstration in which we marched from the capitol building here in Washington, D.C., to the front of the White House in a very peaceful demonstration with a number of members of Congress. In much the same way those marched in Dallas, Texas, we saw things very differently. We have to take on those issues in a very significant way,” Shelton said.
“Let us not forget two things, Bill. Number one is that those marches were for good reasons. Indeed, if we look at the disparities and the attacks of African-Americans and the killings of African-Americans by police officers, even unarmed African-Americans, the numbers and the data is important as well… and we look at the data, we see that twice as many African-Americans and unarmed African-Americans are shot by police officers than White Americans in our society. That raises a problem.”
And the problem is that Bill O’Reilly and others of his ilk prefer to blame the Black Lives Matter Movement for how they react to police disproportionately killing African Americans rather than police misconduct that precipitated the marches.