‘BLUE LIVES MATTER’ BILLBOARD SPARKS CONTROVERSY AT RIT
A controversial PSA being displayed on digital billboards across the nation has made its way to Rochester, NY.
Blue Lives Matter is a new campaign created in collaboration between, Memphis branding agency, Tactical Magic and Lamar Advertising.
The campaign, which kicked off nationwide on Sept. 23, is now being displayed on a digital billboard located on 390 South, just before the airport.
Trace Howell, Tactical Magic’s creative director, created the images as a show of support for local police enforcement. Originally, the campaign was created for Memphis after what Howell described as a, “series of attacks around the country in which police officers had been targeted for assassinations.”
The billboard quickly became a major topic of discussion among faculty and students at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) just a week after its appearance.
“My initial reaction was that it didn’t serve any real purpose except to solidify a kind of ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” said Kelly Norris Martin, assistant professor in communications at RIT. “The ad agency may have thought they were trying to support police officers, and this could have been a positive message, but framing it in this way, as a response to Black Lives Matter suggests they don’t believe that message… or that Black Lives Matter is about harming cops.”
Black Lives Matter is a social movement that began shortly after the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin. The global movement is a call to action and response to the extrajudicial and racist killings of blacks.
Martin’s impression of the public service announcement quickly became a shared opinion across campus.
Wilson Darko is a fifth year electrical engineering major and the president of the Alpha Phi Alpha’s Mu Sigma chapter. Darko said this campaign proves that those promoting Blue Lives Matter truly don’t understand the Black Lives Matter campaign.
“Black Lives Matter highlights the fact that several black lives are being taken with little consequence by the law enforcement, who are meant to protect them, making it seem like our lives don't have as much significance as others,” Darko said. “If a cop is killed it is almost guaranteed the full force of the law is coming down on someone to bring justice. If a black life is killed by the police in America, often times their only justice is found in a hash-tag.”
Jasmine Abrams, second year mechanical engineering technology major, said she took the PSA is a giant slap in the face: “This campaign is just like the All Lives Matter reaction. Both are counteracting the Black Lives Matter movement. The Blue Lives Matter campaign undermines our struggle. It gives off the innuendo that black lives matter less than police lives.”
“These billboards are just adding to the tension that already exists between police and communities. I don’t understand why there is always a counteraction to anything created specifically with minorities in mind… They could have gone in a different direction,” Abrams proclaimed.
Professor Martin agreed that the billboard was insensitive and wasn’t intelligently created. If the message was to unite the community and law enforcement, the ad should be changed. “A simple message about thanking police officers or highlighting local police, building community or thanking one another would have been a stronger message that may have actually united people instead of dividing. Maybe even a campaign where they highlight local ‘heroes’ and the featured stories are a variety of people in the community (some of them police),” Martin continued.
The original Blue Lives Matter campaign that was started in Memphis did contain alternate images. These images used slogans such as “Memphis Heroes Wear Blue” and “Memphis Honors The Blues.”
Lamar Advertising was contacted for comment on why this specific slogan was chosen for Rochester but they neglected to reply.
Abrams noted, “I was put off by the fact that they chose to mimic this movement out of all things. In Memphis, they are cycling ads that are specific to their police departments so I don’t understand why they didn’t do the same for the national campaign. This act just further fuels the original innuendo.”
Former Rochester Police Chief Jim Sheppard retaliated that the PSA has been taken out of context and it isn’t the first Blue Lives Matter campaign being cycled. Sheppard went on to say that he believes the original movement should be about all lives rather than just black lives.
“Black Lives Matter? Well, show me. People get so angry over whites killing blacks or police killing blacks but what about when we kill each other?” Sheppard continued, “In fact, the data shows that deaths of blacks caused by law enforcement are not as high as people think. I believe that all lives matter. No matter who it is that gets killed, we have to remember that they were someone’s baby. Someone is always going to be grieving.”
While the recent mainstream media coverage and public interest in deaths caused by law enforcement has skyrocketed over the last five years, the data shows a parallel relationship illustrating why.
Earlier this year The Guardian created a project aimed to report on every death caused by U.S. law enforcement. “The Counted” project, which was released in June, revealed that there were 500 deaths so far caused by law enforcement and the U.S. was on path to reach 1,000 by the end of the year.
Of this population of 500, 49.6% were White, 28.2% were Black and 14.8% were Hispanic/Latino. However, the most revealing data related to who was unarmed at the time of death. Blacks accounted for 30.5% of those unarmed while Whites accounted for 16.1%.
Chief Sheppard proposed the rejection of stereotypes: “When it comes down to race, no one likes stereotypes. You don’t want someone to profile you, and police share the same feeling. The uniform doesn’t make us all the same. We should all be treated as an individual.”