9 Perfect Clapbacks to Anyone Who Says #BlackLivesMatter Activism Isn't Working


The movement for black lives is more marathon than sprint, but when activists disrupted a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle Aug. 8, questions arose as to whether the protesters' tactics were actually doing more harm than good.

To recap: Sanders is a front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. His supporters insist that he is the best candidate for black people — "He marched with MLK!" they'll tell you — and thus such disruptions are misguided or unwarranted. 

Yet despite running on a platform of ending economic inequality, Sanders has been remarkably slow to address the unique contours of racial inequality until recently.

Meanwhile, the United States has seen more than a year of near-continuous protests over the extra-judicial killing of black people. Hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested, and uprisings have rocked at least two cities. One element of those protests has been the disruption of political events: the Netroots Nation conference and rallies held by Sanders, Jeb Bush and, to a compromised degree, Hillary Clinton, have all been targets.

This has made some of their supporters upset.

But the question is, is it working? It depends on your definition. If "working" means letting politicians pontificate to crowds of disciples uninterrupted, then no, these tactics are not working. Otherwise, it's hard to deny what protest — what some would deem rude, boisterous, often disruptive and inconvenient black protest — has helped Americans accomplish in the past year.

Behold: Knowledge for the people who say #BlackLivesMatters' tactics are counterproductive or ineffective:

1. A leading presidential candidate now has a racial justice platform.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

Bernie Sanders, a contender for president of the United States, did not have a racial justice platform before #BlackLivesMatter activists took him to task for his relative silence around racial inequality. Now he does.

To date, he is the only candidate to address this issue in such a comprehensive manner — and he did so in direct response to the outside pressure he was receiving from protesters, who refused to stop interrupting his events, despite pushback from supporters.

Takeaway: It's working.

2. More people are worried about race relations now than they have been in years.

Racism is a pressing issue today for more people in the U.S. than it has been since the early 1990s. According to Gallup, 13% of Americans view "race relations/racism" as the most pressing problem facing our country. The last time it was that high was 1992, the year of unrest in Los Angeles as a result of police brutality.

That 23 years could pass in this country without racism being a major concern speaks to how firmly BLM activists have embedded the issue into our collective agenda. Otherwise, many of us would still be asleep.

Takeaway: It's working.

3. "All Lives Matter" won't cut it anymore.

For those presenting themselves as allies in the fight against racism, the standard has been set: No longer can you reappropriate the rallying cry "Black Lives Matter" with the ostensibly color-blind, but actually just ignorant, "All Lives Matter" and get away with it.

ICYMI: The term "Black Lives Matter" stems from the specific need to recognize the value of black life in a society that seems hellbent on destroying it. It does not mean that black lives matter more than other lives do. It means that black lives matter too, and America's failure to recognize that has reached peak unacceptability.

Many presidential candidates have learned this the hard way: Say "All Lives Matter," and you're pretty blatantly missing the point. Activists are forcing people to pay attention to this issue with a renewed intensity and focus.

The takeaway: It's working.

4. Missouri has limited graft of its citizens.

Jeff Roberson/AP

Missouri's state legislature passed only one of the 65 bills proposed to reduce instances of racially influenced police violence. In the same state where Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson, the one that got through was big: Per Missouri Senate Bill 5, the amount of money municipalities are able to draw from court fines imposed on citizens is now seriously limited.

This issue became widely known when the Department of Justice revealed that Ferguson police officers were disproportionately targeting black people for the tickets that led to such fines. Protesters and advocates made it clear that this was unacceptable.

Takeaway: It's working. 

5. Grand juries for police who kill are now gone in California.

Policy changes can be as important as cultural shifts. On Tuesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill outlawing the use of secret grand juries in cases involving excessive or deadly force by police. It's the first such bill in the country, and likely would not exist had activists not prompted a nationwide tidal swell in favor of police accountability.

The backlash against grand juries reached a turning point after neither of the police officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, were indicted by grand juries. People felt this needed to change, and in at least one state, it has.

Takeaway: It's working.

6. New York has a special prosecutor for police misconduct cases.

Similarly, the State of New York has appointed a special prosecutor — in this case, the state attorney general — to investigate police killings. Before, that job was left to local prosecutors, whose close professional proximity with many of the police they were tasked with investigating raised serious questions about conflicts of interest.

New York seems to be getting the message.

Takeaway: It's working.

7. Body cameras are everywhere.

Richard Ellis/Getty Images

Body cameras have been inaccurately lauded as a major step toward sustained police reform. But despite their limits, they can be useful: When former officer Ray Tensing of the University of Cincinnati police killed motorist Samuel Dubose in July and tried to lie about the circumstances under which the shooting took place, it was footage from his body camera that exposed him. 

To date, most of the measures passed at the state level since Aug. 9, 2014, have had to do with body cameras. This was a direct response to the public's desire for greater law enforcement transparency, as articulated by protesters.

Takeaway: It's working.

8. Less military equipment is available to local police departments.

After the U.S. saw images of police officers storming the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in armored trucks and military-grade combat equipment, the public questioned whether we wanted our law enforcement looking and treating citizens like an invading army.

Many said no, especially those protesters that had been attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets when they took to the streets of Ferguson in protest. In response, President Barack Obama banned the sale of many types of military equipment from the Pentagon to local police, including "armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, and large-caliber weapons and ammunition," according to USA Today.

Takeaway: It's working.

9. Every black death is now an emergency.

Perhaps the starkest and most enduring takeaway from the past year's protests is how attentive we've become, as a nation, to the prevalence of black death. Few black men, women or children are killed by law enforcement these days without significant pockets of social media and on-the-ground activists responding with tweets, hashtags and a convergence of people-power to the spaces where the killings have taken place.

Activists have also reclaimed media narratives that would otherwise frame the young, black and dead as somehow worthy of death due to their transgressions, whether real or imagined. They have positioned every black death within the context of a long history of anti-black violence. Whether they agree or not, the whole country is paying attention.

Takeaway: It's working.

These are not definitive solutions to the racism that defines our American heritage. But the tactics that protesters are using — disruption, media takeovers, direct action — are having an undeniable impact that few others have been able to achieve. It's a marathon, not a sprint. But it is working.