Activist DeRay McKesson Calls “All Lives Matter” A Distraction (Video)

DeRay McKesson has become a key voice in contemporary American race politics. The former teacher and current social activist began to amass a considerable Twitter following in the wake of the shooting death of Mike Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in the summer of 2014, and as the Black Lives Matter and similarly focused movements continued to grow, so did his presence. Frequently traveling to cities across the country to help organize and execute various rallies and protest, McKesson has now met with the media, politicians, and celebrities in an effort to bring more visibility to the campaign to end police violence, and in just the last week he has made two major appearances on television. First, he sat down with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show and had a compelling discussion about white privilege, a conversation not often held on national television with such candor. Last night, he visited Trevor Noah at The Daily Show, where the two spoke about the current state of the movement, the failings of the police, and more.

At the top of the interview, the two discuss the power of social media in organizing like-minded folks to get up and do something. “Twitter is everything,” DeRay explains as he recounts his initial decision to appear at a protest rally in the earliest days of his activism. “It’s a phenomenal platform to amplify the voices of people of color,” he says of the social media tool. When asked what he’s trying to teach people through his work, McKesson explains that he aims to help people understand that not only is “police violence much closer to them than they thought,” but also to raise awareness of the fact that the police “have killed at least 60 people so far in 2016 alone.” Another goal of his is to educate others on the fact that “Blackness is very complex,” and that conversations need to be had about identity, particularly because of the frequency with which detractors attempt to dismantle the movement and its goals. Noah asks McKesson to respond to those who counter ‘Black lives matter’ with ‘all lives matter,’ to which the latter responds “it’s one of the most interesting distraction techniques that we’ve seen coming out.” He then asks listeners to imagine “you were at a breast cancer rally and somebody yells ‘colon cancer matters!'” to illustrate the fault in such an argument. “We’re not saying that other lives don’t matter. What we are saying is there’s something unique about the trauma that Black people have experienced in this country, especially around policing, and that we need to call that out.”

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Further into the discussion, McKesson comments on the hypocrisy of the criminal justice system, referencing the incarceration rates of African Americans versus corrupt Wall Street bankers. Noah then sets up a theoretical argument commonly heard in discussions about the efficacy of the Black lives matter – that in which critics might say something like ‘so the cops may have killed 60 people, but what about all of the Black people killed by other Black people?’ – and McKesson fires right back. “The police are agents of the state and they have the power to kill people, and that is not the same thing as private citizens,” he begins. “We’re not saying one issue is more important than the other, what we are saying is that we are focusing on police violence because it’s state-sanctioned violence,” furthermore commenting on the fact that “these officers are often not held accountable in any type of way,” whereas “there are many mechanisms to hold private citizens accountable.”

The engaging conversation does not end there.

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