In this article:
- The Black Lives Matter movement has come under fire from conservatives since its founding in 2013.
- While many Black Lives Matter counterarguments have been hurled at the movement, though, they are largely false, misleading, or intentionally ignoring data that contradicts them.
- From outright conspiracy theories and fake news to more subtle manipulations of statistics, these conservative Black Lives Matter counterarguments seek to undermine and discredit a movement calling for police reform and racial justice.
- While it’s rare to change minds using facts alone, arming yourself with the facts that debunk these arguments can better equip you to call out disinformation.
Since its founding in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has come under almost non-stop attack from conservative websites and right-wing social media accounts. These conservative sources have come up with dozens of talking points aimed at either discrediting the organization itself or dismissing the demands for police reform and racial justice that the movement calls for.
While pointing out the falseness or racism in these arguments probably won’t change the minds of anybody who’s making them, countering them with the facts can add to the discourse and help others who might be reading or listening to debates on social media.
With that in mind, here are nine of the most commonly heard Black Lives Matter counterarguments and the facts (with sources) you can use to dispel these myths.
4 Conservative Black Lives Matter Counterarguments Criticizing the Organization
To start, let’s examine the major conservative Black Lives Matter counterarguments against the organization itself, most of which verge on baseless conspiracy theories.
1. The Black Lives Matter Movement Is a Terrorist Organization
Many conservatives call BLM protestors terrorists and have petitioned for the movement to be labeled a terrorist organization. One version of the argument states that a “convicted terrorist” sat on the board of the BLM funding body.
The flames of this argument were fanned by former President Trump when he labeled the protests “domestic terrorism” at a press event in Kenosha, Wisconsin:
Earlier, in 2017, the FBI’s counterterrorism unit internally circulated a report designating “Black Identity Extremists” as a domestic terrorist threat.
This is not the first time the FBI has targeted Black-led movements as a domestic threat without evidence. Before Trump, the FBI trained agents in surveillance of “Black Separatist Groups” and provided such a vague definition of the term that any movement connected to the Black community could become a target for surveillance and disruption.
The 2012 ACLU’s investigation found that this was used as a “justification for aggressive enforcement operations against any group to which it gives this label.”
Why It’s False
To start, the “convicted terrorist” on the board of BLM was not a convicted terrorist. Susan Rosenberg, the person who sat on the board of Thousand Currents, the organization that handles BLM’s fundraising and who conservative media declared a “convicted terrorist” was not, in fact, convicted of terrorism.
For one, that’s not a possible conviction. But, more to the point, she was not convicted of the bombings these sources claim she was convicted of. Rosenberg was active in leftist revolutionary groups in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. She was arrested and convicted of possessing weapons and fraudulent documents but not of any terrorist activities.
The other problem with this argument is that the movement does not fit the legal criteria for being designated a terrorist organization. The State Department’s criteria are as follows:
- Be a foreign organization. BLM is not.
- Engage in or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorism. BLM does not have the capability or intent to engage in the violent activity designated as terrorism, which is defined as “politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets.” The foundation doesn’t stockpile weapons or disseminate violent strategies or agendas. Its entire agenda is one of policy reform.
- Threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests of the United States. BLM poses no threat to national security. Protests do not interfere with national defense or foreign relations. Calling for policy reform does not threaten security or economic interests.
2. Police Brutality Is Bad, but Rioting and Looting Are Worse
Both conservatives and moderates have made the argument that even though police brutality is a problem, they don’t agree with rioting and looting as a way to call attention to that problem. They argue that violent rebellion is un-American and that protestors should focus on peaceful actions.
Why It’s False
The overwhelming majority of BLM protests have, indeed, been peaceful. A 2020 study by ACLED found that 93% of the approximately 7,750 BLM protests that happened in the year following George Floyd’s murder were peaceful.
Of the 220 locations where violence was reported, the rioting or property damage reported was usually confined to a single block or area, while the rest of the protest remained peaceful.
Secondly, rioting and looting are not worse than police brutality. Of the 25 Americans killed during the protests in 2020, only one was killed by a BLM protestor. Moreover, at least six of those deaths were BLM protestors killed by conservative counter-protestors.
Meanwhile, 1,126 people were killed by police in 2020. Similar numbers have been reported in previous years.
The problem that the BLM movement is protesting is far deadlier than the risk of an occasional protest turning into a riot. And to compare looting to murder is to completely devalue human life.
Finally, on the claim that violent rebellion is un-American, the Revolutionary War tells us a different story — as does the Second Amendment, which provides for our uniquely American right to take up armed rebellion against the government if it should ever start using its authority to, say, kill its own civilians in the streets.
When demands made peacefully go unheard, what choice do people have? Martin Luther King, Jr. himself (the moderate’s favorite person to quote in appeals for nonviolent protests) said in a 1967 speech that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
3. George Soros Is Funding the Black Lives Matter Movement
George Soros is a recurring character in many conservative conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns. He has been accused of everything from secretly controlling the entire global economy to secretly paying thousands of Central Americans to “invade” America’s southern border.
The Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire has even been accused of being a former Nazi despite being 1) Jewish and 2) a toddler when the Nazis rose to power in 1933.
According to this particular conspiracy theory, George Soros is the nefarious puppeteer behind the Black Lives Matter movement. In some versions, he owns the whole foundation. In others, he’s simply hiring protestors and renting buses to ship them to protest sites around the country. Sometimes, he’s even accused of strategically placing piles of bricks around town to encourage rioting and looting.
Why It’s False
No part of the conspiracy theory has any basis in reality. The Black Lives Matter movement is a decentralized, horizontal organization with no single leader. The foundation, which takes in most of the donations, does not dictate the actions of its chapters.
To complicate this further, many local groups that use “Black Lives Matter” in their names or slogans are not in any way affiliated with the Black Lives Matter foundation. So, no single entity, George Soros or otherwise, controls the entire movement.
There is also no evidence that the protestors last summer or in any other protest throughout the movement’s existence were hired by George Soros or his organization (or anybody else). The Poynter Institute investigated the claim that the protestors were hired and could find no evidence to support them.
What George Soros’s philanthropic organization, the Open Society Foundations, has done is invest $220 million in a range of civil rights organizations and racial justice initiatives last year that promoted racial equality and civil rights for Black people.
4. Black Lives Matter Movement Leaders Are Buying Houses With Donations
This is a newer conspiracy theory that came with a real estate blog post about Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter network foundation, buying a house in Los Angeles. While conservatives have targeted the foundation before about its finances, some leaped on the news that Cullors bought a $1.4 million house this past April. According to the conspiracy, she used donations to fund the purchase.
Why It’s False
Cullors did not use donations to buy her house. She has built a successful career as an author, speaker, and organizer since co-founding BLM in 2013 and used her earnings from that career. The BLM foundation has only paid her $120,000 over the course of six years, equating to about $20,000 per year (or not nearly enough to finance her recent purchase of a $1.4 million home).
5 Conservative Black Lives Matter Counterarguments Criticizing the Cause
In addition to discrediting the foundation, conservatives also try to discredit the cause BLM protestors are fighting for. Here are some of the most popular counterarguments when BLM supporters bring up the issue of police brutality in the Black community:
1. All Lives Matter
This might be the most widely heard retort to the Black Lives Matter movement. As the slogan implies, this argument states that all lives — not just Black lives — matter. The implication is that when protestors use the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” what they mean is only Black lives matter.
Why It’s False
It’s an intentional misreading of the slogan and the movement’s purpose. The BLM movement is not about claiming Black lives matter more than any others. It’s about challenging a system that specifically devalues Black lives.
When police kill unarmed Black men in the streets and don’t get charged with the murder or even suspended, the American justice system is declaring that Black lives don’t matter. When young Black men are put in prison at 12 times the rate of young white men, that system is declaring that Black lives don’t matter.
When Breonna Taylor was shot five to six times in her own home during a botched police raid and not one of the officers who broke into her home was charged with her murder, that system is saying that Black lives don’t matter.
When protestors use the Black Lives Matter slogan, they’re not challenging white lives or any other lives. They’re challenging a system that has consistently and for centuries treated Black people as if their lives don’t matter.
To say “all lives matter” is a meaningless misdirection. The BLM movement grew out of a need to address a specific problem in American society: police brutality and lack of accountability.
2. Black on Black Crime Is a Bigger Threat Than Police Brutality
“Black people are more likely to be killed by other Black people than they are by police.” So goes this conservative argument that seeks to shut down any discussion of police brutality using misdirection.
Even former President Trump himself retweeted this gem while campaigning in 2015:
If those statistics were accurate, 100% of Black people (and white people, for that matter) would be dead. Also, for what it’s worth, there’s no such thing as the “Crime Statistics Bureau,” the supposed source of these ridiculous statistics. The main sources of crime statistics are the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
This argument uses a tactic called “whataboutism,” in which the individual dismisses a valid complaint by bringing up an unrelated complaint.
We’ve seen it in other policy reform discussions as well. In the #metoo movement, reports of rape and other sexual assault are met with: “What about men? Men are raped, too!” In the debate about sending foreign aid to help other countries, supporters are met with: “What about the homeless? We have poor people at home, too!”
Likewise, in the debate about how to reform the justice system to make it fairer and safer for Black people, reform suggestions are met with: “What about black-on-black crime? That’s worse!”
Curiously, in none of these cases does the person making the argument actually want to solve the problem they bring up in their attempt to misdirect.
Why It’s False
In terms of raw numbers, yes, more Black people were murdered by other Black people than they were by police. Here’s the problem, though: we already have a system in place for holding murderers accountable for their crimes. 61.6% of murders were cleared (meaning an arrest was made and charges were brought).
Meanwhile, of the 1,126 police killings, officers were charged in just 16 cases (1%). That’s the problem.
The system for holding police accountable is not working. That’s what the BLM movement is trying to fix. So, bringing up “black-on-black crime” when we’re talking about police accountability is about as relevant as bringing up the number of Black people who die from heart disease or in car accidents. It’s not relevant.
3. Police Kill More White People Than Black People
This bizarre argument that BLM protestors shouldn’t be protesting police brutality because white people are also killed by police surpasses even my ability to work out the underlying logic in it. President Trump, once again used this conservative Black Lives Matter counterargument himself in a press conference last July.
The idea, I guess, is that if white people are also being killed by police, then BLM protestors should just stop demanding accountability and reform. Maybe the logic is that conservatives don’t think BLM protestors should frame it as a racial justice issue. Either way, it’s false.
Why It’s False
The statistics are technically right here. Of the 1,126 people killed by police last year, 48% were white while 27% were black. So, yes, in terms of raw numbers, more white people died at the hands of police than Black people.
The problem with this argument, though, is that it ignores the proportions.
If police killings were not racially motivated, Black people should only account for roughly 13% of those killed and white people should account for approximately 63%. That would be proportionate to the demographics of the U.S. population. Instead, these statistics show that Black people are more likely to be killed by police, while white people are less likely to be killed.
The other problem with this argument is that it’s being used to dismiss calls for police reform when, really, it should only make the issue even more clear.
How is the fact that white people are also dying at the hands of police being used as an argument in favor of preserving the status quo? The movement’s call for police reform would benefit those white victims of police brutality, too.
4. Police Work Is Dangerous and Cops Fear for Their Lives
Some argue that police killings are unfortunate, but police are doing dangerous work so it’s understandable that they might resort to deadly force when they fear for their lives. Some go on to empathize by saying that if they were in such threatening situations, they might respond the same way.
While they should try to use non-lethal force when they can, conservatives opine, it’s just not always possible.
Why It’s False
Police work can, undoubtedly, be dangerous. However, the data on those who were killed by police reveal that officers are using lethal force in situations where they could have used non-lethal methods to de-escalate the situation.
Of the 1,126 people police killed in 2020, only 565 (or about 50%) of these cases involved a suspect with a gun, who was allegedly threatening someone with the gun.
Conversely, 411 people were killed even though they were not threatening with a gun, 121 people were killed in traffic stops, and 97 were killed during mental illness or welfare checks. In total, 629 of those killed were killed in situations that could have been de-escalated in other ways.
Meanwhile, only 93 police officers died from injuries sustained in the line of duty in 2020. Of those, just 46 were killed as the result of a criminal act. The rest were car accidents, firearm-related accidents, and other accidental deaths while on duty.
Beyond the fact that the data prove police are using deadly force when they shouldn’t be, police officers choose to do this job. They know the risks going in. If they didn’t want to take those risks, they could work in any number of other jobs that don’t have the same dangers.
Police officers are also trained to do their job. While the training officers receive is problematic for its own reasons, the fact is that officers get trained to deal with dangerous situations. They should be held to a higher standard than everybody else.
It’s not acceptable for a trained professional to use danger as an excuse for murder any more than it would be acceptable for a brain surgeon to claim that they killed their patient because surgery is hard.
Sure, it would be too hard for me (an untrained civilian) to perform brain surgery, but that’s why I don’t perform brain surgeries.
Likewise, some of the scenes police respond to might make me (an untrained civilian) fear for my life, but that’s why I’m not a police officer. If you’re not prepared to do your job well, don’t do a job where people could die.
5. Fake Statistics “Proving” Black People Are Dangerous
There is a dizzying array of fake news and statistics circulating on the conservative side of the internet, all of which have the same goal: to prove that Black people are doing the most killing and committing the most crimes.
The most commonly encountered statistic is the “13/52 stat” or, for the even more audacious racists out there, the “13/90 stat.” It refers to the unsubstantiated claim that while Black people make up just 13% of the population (this is true), they account for 52% or 90% of the crime (this is not true).
Interestingly, this false statistic proves that conservatives do understand the concept of proportionality — yet they somehow still dismiss BLM’s core concern that Black people are disproportionately killed by police.
The argument behind these fake statistics is that if Black people are responsible for most crime, then 1) they are a bigger threat to their own community than police are, and 2) it is understandable that police would feel the need to use excessive force against such a dangerous demographic.
Why It’s False
None of these statistics are real. The real statistics on crime do not support the argument that Black people are in any way more prone to crime than any other race.
Here’s what the actual statistics show:
Of the 6,543,257 known offenders in 2019, 29.5% were Black (not 52% or 90%). Of that 29.5%, about two-thirds of the offenses were nonviolent crimes against property or drug violations. Just 0.02% of offenses were homicides.
What’s more troubling is that, even though Black offenders are overwhelmingly nonviolent, they are five times more likely to be imprisoned compared to white offenders. For young Black men, it’s even worse. Black men aged 18-19 are 12 times as likely to be imprisoned as white men of the same age.