Journalists dispel the many inaccurate narratives about the Black Lives Matter movement

Jackie Spinner

Jul 1, 2021


A few weeks ago, I got an anonymous letter sent to my home address objecting to the “Black Lives Matter” sign I have in my front yard. It was purportedly from a “concerned resident” who saw the sign while driving by and wanted me to know that I supported a Marxist, anti-family organization.

I felt singled out, even though many of my Chicago neighbors have similar signs. I also have since learned that at least two other neighbors received similar notes.

I have three Black sons, and my journey to putting the BLM sign in my yard was a long and fraught one, which the anonymous writer — whose objections were scrawled on an American flag notecard — would not have known.

As a longtime journalist, an old-fashioned one at that, I subscribe to the playbook that prohibits me from publicly displaying my allegiance to political candidates by way of a yard sign or a social media post. I will talk about policy but not politics, although I am not naive to their intersection. Nonetheless, I do it carefully.

I have taken pains over the years to keep my affiliations private and my opinions to myself, so much so that in recent years as I’ve started to write op-eds, I report out my own thoughts. I am that uncomfortable with crossing the line between news and editorial. After so many years as a hard news reporter, I am a reluctant columnist, even here.

I’ve written about education and about autism, but I don’t cover either of those as a news beat. It’s felt safe.

But in the past year, as I’ve worked actively to become anti-racist, as I’ve wrestled with issues as the mother of three young Black sons, I’ve realized my own privilege in being able to distance myself from issues of race and social justice. I cannot let my colleagues of color carry the flag into battle without me behind them.

The fact is that Black lives do matter, and I’ve realized I can support the movement to dismantle systematic injustice and discrimination as a journalist and a mother without compromising either. I can support the movement while still supporting family members and friends who wear a uniform.

I do so with fact.

A recent Harvard study ( showed what anyone who attended a BLM protest or march last summer already knew: the vast majority were peaceful and non-violent.

The researchers examined 7,305 events in thousands of towns and cities in all 50 states and D.C., involving millions of attendees.

Here is what they found, in their own words. “The overall levels of violence and property destruction were low, and most of the violence that did take place was, in fact, directed against the BLM protesters.”

The data suggest that 96.3% of events involved no property damage or police injuries, and in 97.7% of events, no injuries were reported among participants, bystanders or police.

“These figures should correct the narrative that the protests were overtaken by rioting and vandalism or violence,” according to the conclusion of the researchers. “Such claims are false. Incidents in which there was protester violence or property destruction should be regarded as exceptional — and not representative of the uprising as a whole.”

The fact is that we, in the media, could have and need to do a better job of dispelling the inaccurate narrative about BLM, and not so I can feel better about displaying my sign. We can do so even as we report on the organization and their finances and their leadership.

We have this innate calling — and I get it because I’ve done it for decades — to cover mayhem. But we also have a responsibility to put it into context.

Last summer, as BLM protests and rallies were in full swing, the independent U.S. Office of Special Counsel issued an opinion that the BLM movement wasn't political or partisan. This cleared the way for federal workers to show their support with signs or by wearing apparel.

The Hatch Act ( prohibits appointed federal employees from participating in certain partisan political activities.

Obviously, there is no law that governs journalists, and when we commit to the profession or are employed by a news organization, we abide by our own code of ethics or the rules of our employer.

I’m still not going to announce who I voted for in an election. I won’t display campaign signs. I’ll steer clear of writing opinions and commentary about issues I have to cover as a news reporter.

But I’m going to keep that Black Lives Matter sign in my yard. In fact, in a show of defiance against the anonymous letter-writer, I added a second one.


Because Black Lives Matter, in our newsrooms, in our communities and on our blocks.

Jackie Spinner is the editor of Gateway Journalism Review ( and an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago. Send story tips to