Until all lives matter, Black Lives Matter

September 17, 2015

I live and work in downtown Baltimore. My apartment building is two to three blocks from city hall. My work is three to four blocks from city hall.

During the last few months, when I have told people where I live and/or work, or when working with patients, I get asked if we’ve had any problems from the protestors or the riots that happened in April. I tell them the truth, that we’ve had no problems. Everything in our area is peaceful and well-planned. We’ve had no disturbances, no issues. Nothing of note, other than that the local homeless man who lived outside our building apparently decided to relocate.

I didn’t expect anything different despite two upcoming hearing dates for the officers allegedly involved in the death of Freddie Gray. I figured there would be protests, as there had been after the unrest, but I never thought they would be anything other than peaceful. Until I got a note from my employer. It read

We are actively monitoring our campus, including the garages. Please use the hospital bridges to exit to the garages, and be aware of your surroundings. If you feel uncomfortable going to your car, please ask for an escort by calling Security. The sheriff’s office will be parking their official vehicles in the garage. If you park in the street lot and would like to park in the garages, at employee garage rates, you may do so.

Until I saw this outside my office the morning of the hearing:


Yes, they are the Baltimore City Police, the SWAT team, dressing in riot gear. Yes, riot gear. And again, yesterday we received the same email. Again, this morning, we saw the SWAT team gearing up in front of our building. From what I’ve heard, all the protests were peaceful, with only one or two arrests at most.

It makes me wonder; when did the right to freedom of speech, the right to peacefully assemble, or the right to petition the government for a redress of grievance, become so dangerous that riot police must be employed? So dangerous that normal working people should be afraid of strangers, afraid for their personal property and their safety, when they are three to four blocks away.

The answer: When the cry became “Black lives matter.” When the peaceful protesters are black and those being protested against are police officers. I have heard that “Black lives matter” is akin to terrorism or hate speech. I have heard that “All lives matter” should be the cry, instead of “Black lives matter.”

Until all people have the right to freedom of speech, the right to peacefully assemble and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, Black Lives Matter. Until all people can drive home or walk in their neighborhood safely without threat of being killed by police, Black Lives Matter. Until we stop hearing of yet another unarmed black person killed at the hands of the police, Black Lives Matter. Until we have to stop reminding ourselves that black lives matter, and until we acknowledge that black lives matter as much as all lives matter, I will continue to say “Black lives matter.”

Yes, all lives do matter. God created us all in God’s image. But we live in a flawed society where black lives are more at risk in daily life, and at risk in ways that I, as a white woman, will never have to worry about. Until it is no longer true that I am the recipient of privileges based on my skin color, I will keep saying “Black lives matter.” Say it with me today and work to make it possible in the future to say “All lives matter.”

—Tanya Denley

Tanya Denley is a teaching elder in Baltimore and serves as a PC(USA)-trained antiracism facilitator on the Antiracism Committee of Presbyterian Women’s Churchwide Coordinating Team.