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Cover story, April 9, 2015

An optimist would say the Black Lives Matter movement is working. Even if there were no other signs of progress, the incessant, contorted attacks the movement now faces from the right would be evidence enough. Only a movement that’s making inroads would draw such ire and condemnation.

A pessimist would say that conservative crazy-talk tactic is working, drumming up fear among white Americans and turning the most galvanizing civil rights group of our time into a perceived threat.

On Fox News, Black Lives Matter is the new Benghazi, the newest favorite target of the panoply of conservative commentators and conservative presidential candidates. The right has expanded its rhetoric from demonizing immigrants to accusing the civil rights movement of inciting violence against police officers.

Black Lives Matter seeks justice within the criminal justice system not only for unarmed blacks killed by police but also for the many blacks killed by other blacks whose cases go unsolved, often because they are just swept under the rug.

Black Lives matter is not about creating divisions. It is not about scapegoating police. It is about bringing diverse Americans together for a just cause. It is a multi-faced front: black, LGBT, clergy of many faiths, millennials of all races and individuals of varied economic backgrounds and ages.

The attacks against it require a similarly united defense. Saying “all lives matter” diminishes the historic apathy toward the deaths — and often, the lives — of non-whites. White lives have always mattered. Black lives, not so much. When did a missing black woman drive cable TV into a Natalee Holloway kind of frenzy?

There is no scale to weigh the unprovoked killing of a white sheriff’s deputy in Texas against the unprovoked killing of nine black church members in Charleston, S.C., during bible study. All killing is heinous.

But unarmed black men, especially, are vulnerable and dying, all too often at the hands of sworn officers of public safety. This cannot be denied. It should not be ignored any longer.

Ask any worried black parents how they instruct their children when they go out. Then ask a white parent the same question. Many white parents expect their kids to be treated fairly by the police. They expect their kids will get a break, not a bullet. Black parents don’t have that luxury.

“This is a movement meant to make the streets safer for everyone, including the police,” counsels St. Louis Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation. She has been on the front lines with Black Lives Matter protesters since the Michael Brown Jr. shooting 13 months ago.

Conservatives have had a field day cherry-picking isolated ugly statements against police, loosely linked to Black Lives Matter. But no one would similarly mistake one crazed white shooter in a black church as evidence that all whites are deranged, hateful killers.

Attempting to turn civil rights activists into the enemy is decades old. The real enemy is pernicious racism, and those who discount or fail to see the impact of generations of unequal treatment.

When leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump recently labeled Black Lives Matter troublemakers, he didn’t reveal a hint of cure or care. Where is his plan to end injustice in criminal justice, to make economic equality possible, to help remove more barriers to advancement? How about a little blunt talk about how he plans to make sure black parents face less stress when their kids step out?

The report, For the Sake of All, by Washington University assistant professor Jason Purnell and his team put a price tag on the problem, at least around here. They estimated that in one year alone, the loss of life associated with low levels of education and poverty among African-Americans in St. Louis was $4 billion.

Voters must demand that presidential contenders explain in detail if they plan to invest in quality early childhood education, to help low- to moderate-income families create economic opportunities, to offer school-health programs, to improve mental health care, to help build quality neighborhoods, and to expand chronic and infectious disease prevention and management. All are recommendations in For the Sake of All that would have immediate impacts on communities.

That some would twist Black Lives Matter into something foreboding is precisely why more of us should join hands, speak out and step up for change.

(This editorial was commissioned from freelance editorialists and edited by the Post-Dispatch editorial board.)

Kevin Horrigan • 314-340-8135

@oldsport on Twitter