African American GOP legislator draws sharp criticism after calling Black Lives Matter 'terrorist' group
The first black Republican elected to the Arizona Legislature is facing blowback after calling Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” and attacking the character of George Floyd, the man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police last week.
On top of the public criticism, at least two prominent advocacy groups are now refusing to work with the lawmaker — Rep. Walt Blackman of Snowflake — on future legislation.
Blackman initially denounced the Black Lives Matter movement on KFYI's "Conservative Circus with James T. Harris," saying left-wing "anti-fascists" had infiltrated the movement.
He criticized Arizona Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman for her support of the organization on the show, likening it to "a governor writing and supporting and endorsing the KKK or an extremist right group and putting it on their letterhead.”
Blackman also slammed Floyd, who died on May 25 after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, as "no saint" and "invested in crime" in a video he posted to Facebook. He titled the video: “I DO NOT support George Floyd and I refuse to see him as a martyr. But I hope his family receives justice."
The backlash from activists was swift. The American Friends Services Committee-Arizona — a justice reform organization that has worked closely with Blackman to change the state's sentencing laws — announced Thursday it would no longer partner with him.
"To simply denounce Rep. Blackman’s harmful statements will not heal our communities or help create change," the group said in a statement.
It said it was "vital to hold people accountable for their words and deeds, particularly those in whom we have placed our trust and support."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona also said it would "not affiliate with someone who does not share our values of uplifting marginalized communities and rooting out racism."
Blackman: Black Lives Matter goes against U.S. principles
Blackman doubled down on his remarks, first reported by the Arizona Capitol Times, in an interview with The Arizona Republic.
He described Black Lives Matter as an "ideology that goes against the very concepts and precepts of our principles in the United States."
"They started out one way, and they were about helping the community and pulling themselves up," he said. "Today, they have splinter organizations that have moved away from the original message that have been infiltrated by antifa … and the message is not the same as it was.”
'Antifa' is a reference to anti-fascist groups.
Asked if he was supportive of other organizations seeking to confront police brutality, Blackman questioned whether such brutality existed.
“Fifty-eight police officers were killed in the line of duty last year alone," he said. "Why don’t you have those numbers?”
AFSC-AZ didn't pull any punches, deeming Blackman's comments "offensive" and "irresponsible."
The group said his remarks, particularly the criticism of Floyd's record, did not align “with our values and commitment to uphold the worth and dignity of all people, regardless of who they are or what they have done."
Hoffman was more generous, saying in a written statement that she respected Blackman's right to his point of view.
"As a public servant elected to serve all Arizonans, I am committed to continuing to work toward building understanding, empathy, and policy solutions grounded in equity and inclusion,” Hoffman said.
She said her "door remains open for future meetings and conversations."
BLM member: 'He doesn't represent us'
Tiera Rainey, a member of Black Lives Matter Tucson, said she wanted to be "perfectly clear that BLM period is not a terrorist organization — period." She said she wasn't disappointed by Blackman's remarks, however, because she didn't expect anything different.
"He doesn’t represent us," said Rainey, who has worked as a program coordinator for AFSC-AZ but said the decision to cut ties was not at her behest. "He never has, never will."
Blackman, a small business owner and Army veteran, lives in Snowflake — a town of about 6,000 where 0% of the population is black, according to U.S. Census data.
Since taking office in 2019, he has championed efforts to ease Arizona's sentencing laws through earned release programs at state prisons, among other justice reforms. But he also has supported "law and order" bills, such as a proposal that would've set mandatory sentencing minimums for people caught with even small amounts of heroin or fentanyl.
He generally aligns with his conservative counterparts on social issues. In response to state or national conversations about racism, he often returns to conservative talking points such as stopping "black-on-black violence" and the "19 million black babies aborted" since Roe v. Wade, he says.
"Some people are surprised, asking, 'How can he advocate for criminal justice reform and then invalidate George Floyd’s experience because of his criminal record?'" Rainey said. "I think this is shining a light on what has been a longstanding hypocrisy within the conservative championing of criminal justice reform."
She said Blackman's brand of reform focuses on the end point of incarceration, when a personal already is in prison — a "pretty picture of redemption that doesn’t disrupt the power structure in any substantial matter," she said.
On the other hand, Black Lives Matter — which began as a call to action “in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism,” according to its website — wants to cut mass incarceration off at the root.
"We supposedly don’t have money for our public schools. We're having folks that are literally about to lose their houses and their businesses. We’re feeling the heat and squeeze, and we’re being told there are no resources for these things that the larger community needs," Rainey said. "But we continually have millions of dollars to pour into policing?
"George Floyd wasn’t a 'martyr,' as Rep. Blackman said," Rainey said. "He’s the conduit with which people are airing larger grievances with systemic failures that are affecting everyone."
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