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In the years since Black Lives Matter became the forefront of the American civil rights movement, a common rejoinder to even a simple mention of its name has been “all lives matter.”
Speaking at a presidential forum hosted by Fusion earlier this week, former New Mexico Gov. and 2016 Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson and his vice presidential running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, praised the aims of Black Lives Matter and slammed people saying “all lives matter” as “fundamentally missing the point.”
During the forum, Fusion correspondent Kimberly Brooks asked the candidates about about the public uproar over the string of high-profile incidents of police violence against African-Americans.
“The opportunity that we have here is to say that black lives do matter,” Johnson said. “And when it’s responded to by ‘all lives matter,’ yes, all lives matter, but all lives—white—are not being shot at six times the rate of blacks and that’s what we need to be aware of.”
“The answer to the question of ‘do black lives matter,’ is yes,” added Weld. “All lives matter is a dog whistle.”
In politics, that term ‘dog whistle’ refers to a coded statement that carries a secondary meaning directed that a particular group of listeners. In terms of ‘all lives matter,’ the dog whistle Weld was likely referring to was an assertion that the complaints of the Black Lives Matter movement were illegitimate.
The answers given by Johnson and Weld were similar to those given by erstwhile Democratic presidential hopefuls Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley when they were asked, “Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?” during a primary debate last October.
“Black lives matter,” said Sanders. “The reason those words matter is the African-American community knows that, on any given day, some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car and then, three days later, she’s going to end up dead in jail. Or their kids are going to get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom.”
“The point that the Black Lives Matter movement is making is a very, very legitimate and serious point, and that is, as a nation, we have undervalued… black lives.” agreed O’Malley, who drew the ire of activists earlier in the campaign for saying “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter,” during when Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted a speech he was giving at the progressive Netroots Nation conference.
“I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase ‘black lives matter’ was not because they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter,” said Obama. “What they were suggesting was, there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.”
“It started being lifted up as ‘these folks are opposed to police, and they’re opposed to cops, and all lives matter,’” the president continued. “So the notion was somehow saying black lives matter was reverse racism, or suggesting other people’s lives didn’t matter or police officers’ lives didn’t matter. I think everybody understands all lives matter. Everybody wants strong, effective law enforcement. Everybody wants their kids to be safe when they’re walking to school. Nobody wants to see police officers, who are doing their jobs fairly, hurt.”
For his part, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appears to fall squarely on the other side of the debate. When Black Lives Matter protesters crashed a rally the former reality TV star and real estate mogul held in Virginia earlier this year, Trump responded by saying, “You’re going to hear it once: All lives matter.”
As The Hill reports, when Trump said “all lives matter,” the predominantly white crowd erupted in cheers.
Aaron Sankin is a former Senior Staff Writer at the Daily Dot who covered the intersection of politics, technology, online privacy, Twitter bots, and the role of dank memes in popular culture. He lives in Seattle, Washington. He joined the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2016.