Editor's note: John McWhorter teaches linguistics, American studies, philosophy and music history at Columbia University and is the author of "The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
(CNN) -- Rudolph Giuliani's claim that Black Lives Matter is responsible for tragedies like Micah Johnson's murder of five Dallas policemen last week is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Black Lives Matter movement is and represents.
But make no mistake, Giuliani is correct in arguing that black men are in much more danger of getting killed by one another than by police officers, as is painfully clear during a summer like this one when black youth are killing each other by the score in cities like Chicago. I myself have argued that Black Lives Matter ought to extend its vigilance to such intranecine violence. I stand by the point, despite its extreme unpopularity in many circles, and that anyone should be perplexed at the apparent idea that it's less grievous to be killed by a neighbor than by "the state," as many put it.
Nonetheless, police officers killing innocent black people is still crucial as well: It is this aspect of the relationship between the cops and black communities that creates and sustains the entire sense that black people live under siege from racism. Statistical discrepancies (between equally affluent whites and blacks in favorable mortgages or car payment plans, for instance), so-called cultural appropriation (such as white people's use of black slang expressions or hairstyles), and the like do not leave a psychically healthy people feeling like life has made much progress since 1965. What creates this feeling more than anything else is the threat of violence and death at the hands of people of authority.
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