In “Ratcheting Up the Rhetoric” Mr. Blow says demanding police fairness, oversight and accountability isn’t the same as promoting police hatred or harm. Mr. Kristof, in “Payday for Ice Bucket Challenges Mocked Slacktivists,” says the fund-raising campaign that went viral last year contributed to what scientists say is a breakthrough in A.L.S. research. Here’s Mr. Blow:
Last week, Deputy Darren H. Goforth of the Harris County, Tex., Sheriff’s Department was executed at a gas station in a Houston suburb. It was a horrific scene.
As The New York Times reported, prosecutors said that a gunman approached Goforth from behind and “emptied his 15-round handgun into the back and the back of the head of the deputy, as witnesses watched in horror and surveillance cameras captured the shooting.”
Goforth was simply pumping gas.
His killing was shocking in its brazenness. Your heart sank for this man and his family. You wanted to make sense of something that seemed to make no sense. How could someone be so callous in the taking of a life?
And yet, there were no answers to be had.
The Harris County sheriff, Ron Hickman, admitted as much in a news conference: “We have not been able to extract any details regarding a motive at this point.”
But Hickman departed from proof and protocol to deliver a dangerous, unsupported political statement.
Hickman suggested that Goforth “was a target because he wore a uniform,” but offered no evidence of this.
Hickman said further: “At any point when the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated, coldblooded assassinations of police officers happen, this rhetoric has gotten out of control. We’ve heard ‘black lives matter.’ All lives matter. Well, cops’ lives matter, too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifier and just say ‘lives matter,’ and take that to the bank.” Hickman offered no evidence that the shooting was connected to Black Lives Matter protesters.
The Harris County district attorney, Devon Anderson, said at the same news conference: “There are a few bad apples in every profession. That does not mean that there should be open warfare declared on law enforcement.”
Again, no evidence was offered that the killing was part of any “warfare” on law enforcement.
When a motive is discovered, the sheriff and district attorney may well be proved right, but you don’t make statements and then hope the facts support those statements. That’s operating in the inverse.
At this point, the “war on police” rhetoric is not only unsupported, it’s dangerous and reckless.
On one level, one might be able to understand the overheated language from these officials. A coworker had just lost his life in a brutal fashion. Emotions were high. The loss was still raw.
Furthermore, there was a protest over the weekend — which apparently took place after Goforth was shot — by a group of Black Lives Matter protesters at the Minnesota state fair in which some protesters were captured on video chanting, “Pigs in a blanket; fry ’em like bacon.” An organizer of that demonstration, Trahern Crews, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that the chant was chanted in a “playful” context as they joked back and forth with an officer monitoring the march.
That context is not at all apparent from the video. How you view this movement will inform how plausible you find the “playful” explanation. But whatever the context, I think we can all agree that at the very least, chants like that are ill advised in protests against police brutality. Many people took the chant literally, as a terrorist threat. And one can hardly blame them.
But many in the media who are hostile to the movement went even further, using the chant and Goforth’s tragic death as tools to support and promote a narrative that Black Lives Matter itself is a hate group that has declared war on the police, even though, at this point, there is no evidence whatsoever that the suspect, Shannon J. Miles, was affiliated with or influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement.
(We do know that Miles “spent four months in a mental hospital in 2012 after being declared incompetent to stand trial in an aggravated assault case,” according to The Houston Chronicle.)
The thing that many people have criticized the protesters for — exploiting a tragedy, rushing to judgment, putting narrative ahead of facts — was precisely what they did.
Over the weekend, the Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro asked her guest, Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. of Milwaukee County: “Is it open season on law enforcement in this country?”
Clarke responded, in part: “I said last December that war had been declared on the American police officer led by some high profile people, one of them coming out of the White House, and one coming out of the United States Department of Justice. And it’s open season right now. There’s no doubt about it.”
On Sunday, Harry Houck, Jr., a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired New York Police Department detective, said on the network that “of course there’s anti-police rhetoric out there, you know, based on lies and assumptions, helping to promote the assassination of police officers out there.” He cited the chant by the Minnesota protesters, then continued, “I put them on the same — on the same line as I would the Ku Klux Klan or Black Liberation Army.”
On Monday morning, a co-host of “Fox and Friends,” Elisabeth Hasselbeck, asked the conservative commentator Kevin Jackson:
“Kevin, why has the Black Lives Matter movement not been classified as a hate group? How much more has to go in this direction before someone actually labels it as such?”
The Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said on his show on Monday that Black Lives Matter was a hate group and declared: “I’m going to put them out of business.”
There seems to be a concerted effort to defame and damage Black Lives Matter, and one has to wonder why.
It is impossible to credibly make the case that Black Lives Matter as a movement is a hate group or that it advocates violence. Demanding police fairness, oversight and accountability isn’t the same as promoting police hatred or harm.
I actually believe that you have to peel back the vitriol to expose the fundamental, but unarticulated truth at the core of the opposition to this movement: It centers blackness in a country that “others” blackness. It elevates blackness in a country that devalues it. It prioritizes blackness in a country that marginalizes it.
It demands fairness from a society rife with — and built on! — inequity. It forces America to confront its flaws rather than wishing them away. It drags the racial caste system this country created out of the shadows and into the light.
Black Lives Matter makes America uncomfortable because it refuses to let America continue to lie to itself. It targets police brutality, but the police are simply agents of the state and the state is representative of the totality of America.
Discomfort with Black Lives Matter, is, on some level and to some degree, a discomfort with blackness itself. It’s not only about the merits of individual cases, it is also about the collective, ingrained sins of the system committed disproportionately, and by design, against people of color. The movement convicts this country of its crimes.
America has been engaged since its inception in a most gruesome enterprise: Like the mythological Cronus, it has been eating its children, the darker ones, and this movement demands — at least in one area, at least in one moment — that it atone for that abomination.
Now here’s Mr. Kristof:
When Americans were giddily drenching themselves with ice water during the “ice bucket challenge” a year ago, the cognoscenti rolled their eyes.
The aim of the ice bucket challenge was to raise money to combat A.L.S., also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurodegenerative ailment that affects some 15,000 Americans and usually leads to death within five years. But commentators scoffed: One on Time.com declared it “problematic in almost every way.” Critics sniped that the challenge wasted water and cannibalized contributions to better causes that affect more people.
The ice bucket challenge was taken as emblematic of “slacktivism,” the derisive term for cheap ways to feel good without doing anything meaningful. Critics point to Internet campaigns, the Stop Kony movement and the ice bucket challenge as merely symbolic ways for young narcissists to preen without actually achieving any change.
But now we have evidence that the ice bucket challenge may have worked.
Scientists studying A.L.S. have reported a breakthrough that could lead to therapy, not just for A.L.S. but for other ailments, too. And they say the money raised in the ice bucket challenge was crucial.
The breakthrough, published in Science, was summarized thus: “TDP-43 repression of nonconserved cryptic exons is compromised in ALS-FTD.”
Here’s a translation: The research focused on a protein called TDP-43 that in some circumstances is linked to cell death in the brain or spinal cord of patients. The scientists found that inserting a custom-designed protein allowed cells to return to normal.
“That becomes our therapeutic strategy,” said Philip Wong, a professor at Johns Hopkins University whose lab conducted the research. He said the research team was now testing gene therapy strategies in mice to see if these can halt A.L.S. symptoms.
If it works in mice, the following step would be to seek to conduct a clinical trial in humans, he said.
The researchers are also hoping the therapy will work for a common cause of mental deterioration, frontotemporal dementia, and for inclusion body myositis, a progressive disease that leads to muscle weakness.
Jonathan Ling, a Johns Hopkins scientist who was the lead author of the Science article, said the new work might also lead to a diagnostic test (though probably not a treatment) for Alzheimer’s. Ling said the research team was also working with experts on cancer and immunology to see if other proteins might perform similar roles as TDP-43, possibly leading to far broader implications.
The ice bucket challenge went viral in 2014, partly because it was so much fun to watch videos of celebrities or friends dumping ice water on their heads. Videos of people in the challenge have been watched more than 10 billion times on Facebook — more than once per person on the planet. (I was one of the 17 million who uploaded a video of my drenching to Facebook.)
The ALS Association says the ice bucket challenge raised $115 million in six weeks, and many participants have become repeat donors. Google also reports there were more searches for “A.L.S.” in 2014 than in the entire previous decade.
The research at Johns Hopkins on TDP-43 was already underway, but Wong says ice bucket money helped accelerate the work and allowed the team to conduct some high-risk, high-reward experiments that were critical to the outcome.
“The funding certainly facilitated the results we obtained,” he told me.
It’s true that slacktivism doesn’t always work. The online campaign to “bring back our girls” — the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last year — raised attention, but the girls are still missing.
Likewise, Joseph Kony, the warlord, is still on the run despite the Stop Kony movement. But the United States and African countries directed more resources against Kony, and this has had a very significant effect: Killings by his group are down 90 percent since 2011.
So think of armchair activism as a gateway drug. It exposes people to causes and sometimes gets them hooked. And while it doesn’t always solve problems, it tends to build awareness of crises — a necessary but not sufficient step to getting them resolved.
In any case, armchair activism is preferable to armchair passivity.
With the ice bucket challenge, there’s little evidence of cannibalization that hurt other causes, and it seems to have been revolutionary for this one.
“Across the A.L.S. community, we are probably in our highest time of hope,” said Barbara Newhouse, president of the ALS Association.
So if you endured an ice dunking a year ago — or if you’re participating in the 2015 ice bucket challenge, now underway — there’s no need to apologize for having fun. Rather: Thank you!
Enough with the eye-rolling. Long live slacktivism!