#BlueLivesMatter — A simple statement of fact that began trending on social media in the hours after New York City police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were gunned down on December 20.
The hashtag is a nod to another simple statement of fact used during the months of protests and rallies that followed the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner: #BlackLivesMatter.
That these facts are uttered as if they're countervailing arguments is a testament to just how far we've allowed a few public personalities to go in poisoning what could have been a healthy conversation about criminal justice reform.
America is a place where nearly 7 million lives are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, while nearly 78 million lives have had direct experience with it and with the millions who spend their lives working as part of that system.
But their voices are getting lost. The very people who should be setting the agenda for a much-needed conversation about police-community relations, criminal justice policy and police tactics are the ones who seem to have the least influence in the debate.
Instead, we've allowed politicians and talking heads to grandstand. We've cherry-picked the most offensive things we can find people posting on social media and we've cast blame (or praise, depending on what side you're on)—a heaping ton of it—on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, on St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch, on Al Sharpton, on President Barack Obama and on New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch. People who are far from working on the front lines on these issues.
Think back to this summer, when the residents of Ferguson, Mo. first began telling the world about their struggles. That hashtag — #BlackLivesMatter — spread quickly, as people in communities throughout the country began talking about law enforcement and criminal justice reform.
For a few brief, fleeting moments, it seemed as though those most effected by the system were about to get a long-awaited discourse about justice in the 21st century.
It's a conversation that has happened before. After 15 black men and boys were killed by Cincinnati police between 1995 and 2001, residents and community leaders sat with police officers, union personnel, politicians and other stakeholders to find actual solutions for their discord.
Few would say the Collaborative Agreement struck in Cincinnati was perfect. But it has set the framework for a fairer system, without hampering the vital work done by law enforcement.
Of course, that agreement came before Twitter and Facebook were invented.
Before news editors scanned the web for every craven politico who might distort #BlueLivesMatter or #BlackLivesMatter, while drowning out the voices of actual community residents and police officers interested in making our system work better.
If New York, Ferguson and other cities are going to reach accords like the one established in Cincinnati, those real voices need to be heard.
Graham Kates is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers. He can be found on Twitter, @GrahamKates.