So we come to another point that should be obvious: we cannot reasonably expect police to do the dirty work of twenty-first century segregation without also expecting them to commit routine acts of violence against minorities. While they are certainly culpable for their actions, they are also pawns in a game perpetuated by every middle-class person with a racialized view of what constitutes a “desirable” neighborhood with “good” schools and “safe” streets. These terms thinly veil a dirty social bargain, one where law-abiding working-class minorities must live under a cloud of suspicion. We complain about the militarization of the police, but those who subscribe to these views are the ones who give them their marching orders.
Though the episodic violence that has taken place since Ferguson has filled time on networks purporting to carry news, the peaceful efforts of Black Lives Matter must not be lost in the noise. Just as Occupy made broad segments of society think about rising inequality, Black Lives Matter has brought together broad segments of urban society, of all races, to demand an end to the violent legacies of white supremacy. One of its virtues is that it is decentered and multi-polar, a tacit recognition that race problems are often local—even hyper-local: micro-segregations taking place between city blocks, creating boundaries known to locals that police are expected to defend. That means we cannot blame the Dallas shooting on a group of leaders: the movement has no chain of command.
No other protest movement in recent memory has achieved so significant an awakening on the question of race. We must keep that in mind, and allow that achievement to take root and flight, in the coming weeks and months, when Dallas will be used as a pretext to discredit Black Lives Matter as a whole. That will happen in unsubtle ways, as when those who were already filled with racial hatred will find a new excuse for their bigotry. But it will also happen in subtle ways, as when people feel a little less ethical pressure to make change happen the next time that a police officer kills a young black man. We must be vigilant against both.