#VerifyThis: Why do we have to say Black Lives Matter?

David Schechter takes a 50-year-old conservative white man on a Verify road trip to ask, what exactly is Black Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter is a movement that sprung up 2012, in response to the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. Fueled by allegations of police brutality and amplified by social media-- the movement gained steam in Ferguson, Baltimore and continues in cities around the country. 

Scott Bagg, is 50-years-old, and politically conservative.  He says, absolutely, black lives do matter. But the Black Lives Matter movement? He doesn't like what he sees on TV. 

“Why are you doing this?” reporter David Schechter asked Scott.

“Obviously, you get a lot of different emotions. It stirs you up a little bit.  You know, I've always wanted to know how I can get in some dialogue and maybe be a part of the solution,” Scott said.

So, Scott wants to verify this… If all lives matter, why do we have to say black lives matter?

Our first visit is with Dr. Freddy Haynes in his southern Dallas neighborhood.  He's been the pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church for 31-years.  He believes in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“When we hear all lives matter, what does that mean to you?” Scott asked Haynes.

“Duh. We want to be included in all lives mattering,” Haynes said.

Haynes is telling us there’s a direct line from slavery to segregation to Civil Rights more a subtle and sophisticated forms of institutional racism we live with now.

So, if you’re black in America you are: 2x more likely to be unemployed than a white person, you make 38% less money than white high school graduates and if you’re a young man you’re 6x more likely to be in jail.       

“Institutional racism it's not so much about someone making me feel bad or being mean to me because they used the N-word,” Haynes said.  “As much as it is, outcomes that are reflected in society because structures are set up to produce certain outcomes,” he added.

After talking to Haynes, Scott and David are in the car headed to the next interview.

“Did he convince you that there is such a thing as institutional racism and it is real?” David asked Scott.

“No.  He didn't convince me of that because I'm not in his shoes. That's the only reason.  Does it exist?  It possibly could. But I don’t see that,” Scott answered.

In 2014, Dallas Police responded to a 911 call at the home of Jason Harrison.  He was bipolar and schizophrenic.  His mother, Shirley, called police because he son was agitated and refused to take his medication. When officers showed up, he was holding a screwdriver.  When he refused to drop it, they shot him as he walked from the home.

Shirley and her son Sean have lost their faith in the police, that's what they told Scott and me.

“It happened so fast. Eight seconds he was gone,” Shirley said.

“Because it’s at the hands of the police does that leave a lasting impact on you?” David asked Shirley.

“I don't trust them anymore. I'm just afraid to call them,” she answered.

A grand jury heard this case. It declined to indict the officers who shot Harrison. 

A dog or an animal has more respect than a person of color,” Sean told us.

“Those are strong words,” said Scott. 

“That's how you feel,” Sean said.

After the interview David asked Scott, “Have you ever talked to someone who's lost a loved one like that?”

“No, I feel for them.  I've never experienced that.  But if I was in there shoes what would I think.  I don't think two white police officers came to the neighborhood expecting to shoot a young black man,” said Scott.

Blacks are 13% of the US population, but make up 24% of the people killed by police. Net that out and data collected by the Washington Post shows, if you're black in America you're 2.5 times more likely to be shot by a police officer.

Video of police shootings has fueled the movement. Scott and I are now in an inner-city neighborhood where there’s been a recent shooting. At a press conference, activists are demanding to see the dashcam video.

“If this does in fact end up being a justified event shooting, fine.  But let the citizens of Dallas see that,” said Kim T. Cole, an attorney and community activist.  “Be transparent. That is what will improve the strained relationship between the law enforcement community and the citizens they are hired to serve,” Cole said.

“Other than transparency what do you think are other ways police can work better with the community?” Scott asked at the press conference.

“What we do know is this is about broken policies that lead to lack of transparency in these cases,” said community activist Dominique Alexander with the Next Generation Action Network. “And this is what we're fighting for. We're fighting for full transparency. We need it. We want it.”

Next, Scott and I are meeting with Shaun King, the Senior Justice Writer for the New York Daily News and a leading voice in Black Lives Matter.

Lately, he's been writing a lot about solutions that address police-involved shootings. They include more education for police, better handling of the mentally ill and independent review to investigate police shootings.

“What changes have we seen because BLM exists?” David asked King.

“Black Lives Matter has made the world aware of the problems. We need you to be bothered and disturbed by the pain we are experiencing,” said King.

“That's why we're having these conversations. What can I do, what do I need to do?” Scott asked King.

“We need courageous white men and women who say racism is my problem.  Whenever you leave the person who is oppressed or offended, whenever you force them to fix the offense it rarely works,” King said.

OK, Scott's experience is at its end. And two things stand out. First, Scott is sympathetic to other people.       

“Do you feel like you've changed at all from what you've learned?” David asked Scott.

“Absolutely. No doubt about it. You can't have these conversations and not be more educated,” Scott said.

But the other thing is, Scott's still got a problem with what the movement stands for. Everyone has been telling him and David that racism is a problem so deep in the bones of American society that people feel they have no other choice but to take the streets.

But Scott doesn't buy it unless he can see it.

“I believe there are issues within institutions,” Scott said.

“The concept of institutional racism,” said David.

“I do not think that is the issue. I just don't think institutions come in, whether it’s the police or the criminal justice system that says, because you are black we're going to put you this direction.  Now, poverty?” Scott said.

“It sounds to me like you like you're looking for it to be something other racism. You want it to be poverty, you want it to be bias,” David said. “But you can't believe in the concept of institutional racism.”

“I just don't think, in today's world, that that is the issue,” Scott finished.

Talking about race is clumsy. And we're not always going to say the right thing. But what is important is that we listen. But don’t take my word for it. Take his.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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