News commentators have wondered lately, as one Slate article put it, "what happened to the national outrage over police killings?" Conor Friedersdorf, in The Atlantic's "Up For Debate" newsletter, provides an answer: the Black Lives Matter movement and other protests failed to achieve their ultimate goal, of seeing fewer killings by police, because of "hugely significant" events in the wake of George Floyd's murder in 2020. First, Friedersdorf writes, was the spike in gun homicides "that dwarfs police killings in the number of Black lives that it has destroyed." Then the "trepidation" that set in after the 2020 protests turned violent, another form of devastation falling disproportionately on "Black and brown communities and businesses." Finally, he cites infighting and financial chicanery in the decentralized BLM movement.
"It is now clear that the Black Lives Matter approach has largely failed," Friedersdorf writes. "Despite an awareness-raising campaign as successful as any in my lifetime, untold millions of dollars in donations, and a position of influence within the progressive criminal-justice-reform coalition, there are just as many police killings as before Black Lives Matter began. Politically, a powerful faction inside the movement sought to elect more radical progressives; Donald Trump and Joe Biden won the next presidential elections. That same faction sought to 'defund the police'; police budgets are now rising, and 'defund' is unpopular with majorities of every racial group." Criminal justice reformers need an alternative to BLM "that has better prospects for actually improving real lives," Friedersdorf concludes, lamenting the breakup of "the constructive alliance of libertarians, progressives, and religious conservatives who cooperated during the Obama Administration to achieve some worthy criminal-justice reforms." Maybe it will be found in that coalition's rebirth, or in the model for better policing advocated by journalist Jill Leovy in her book book Ghettoside. Friedersdorf puts the question to his readers — “What is the best way forward for Americans who want to improve the criminal-justice system?” — and promises to air the responses that he gets.