Five years ago this week, George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of black teenager Trayvon Martin.

Martin, who was just 17 years old at the time of his death, had been walking home from buying Skittles at the local convenience store in Sanford, Florida, when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, started following him, determining him to be a “suspicious person.” Despite a 911 dispatcher telling him to stand down, Zimmerman pulled a gun on the unarmed teenager, shot and killed him, in what he would claim during his trial was self-defense.

The remarkable injustice of the acquittal gave birth to what is now colloquially known as the Black Lives Matter movement.

Activists around the country used Black Lives Matter as a simple rallying cry to draw attention to the systemic racism rampant in our criminal justice system and the state-sanctioned violence against black communities at the hands of law enforcement officers. Awareness of these injustices is higher today thanks to the organizing efforts of communities of color and allies alike, but we often see daily reminders in the news that this work is far from over.

Here in Wyoming, we know these issues can sometimes feel a world away. Let’s face it — this is a very homogenous state. Of our small and sparse population, 93 percent identify as white. Jackson has one of the most diverse populations, but even so, many Wyomingites don’t see many black folk, and certainly have yet to be exposed to the violent and senseless incidents that were the impetus for Black Lives Matter. This sense of isolation can occasionally result in words or actions that are out of touch with the experiences of people of color who find themselves on the front lines of these fights.

Last week there was a story published in the News&Guide covering a local effort to protest the grizzly bear hunt in the state — an issue we believe deserves debate and discussion. However, when we saw the picture that accompanied this article, it struck a chord well outside the boundaries of any qualms we may or may not have with Wyoming Fish and Game. In the picture appeared a car parked on Town Square with a large teddy bear holding a sign that read, “Grizzly Lives Matter.”

We understand the message the creator of this sign was trying to get across but cannot in good conscience stand by as a community we care deeply about attempts to equate the systematic murder of black people at the hands of police to a legal grizzly bear hunt.

Do the lives of grizzly bears matter? Yes, but this phrase was created to highlight systemic racism and the institutionalized murder of black people. Appropriating it trivializes and undermines its core goals. The sign appeared, at best, atrociously tone deaf and, at worst, staggeringly offensive in its dismissal of everything the Black Lives Matter movement stands for, joining the ranks of other such dilutions, such as “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”

We had hoped that this would be clear to the broader community and that the backlash to the picture would be swift and strong. But in the dozens of comments and posts across social media about this campaign, we couldn’t find a single person speaking out about the problematic commandeering of this phrase.

Everyone makes mistakes, but it is our willingness to learn from our mistakes and hear other points of view that will result in true progress. Even if you don’t seek to be an active ally, you should work to not be an enemy. Right now, as a country, we are in a moment where holding the lines of social justice is important, even if it’s not a line that directly impacts you. We must keep in mind that there are people in the margins, and when we act, we need to try to not leave them behind.

Jackson claims to be a progressive community. We use the North Star of being inclusive, open, forward-thinking and good stewards to guide us. This week we learn that we still have a long way to go. As privileged white folk we need to hold each other accountable. Jackson can do better.

Phoebe Stoner grew up in rural northeast Ohio and resided in Jackson Hole from 2012 to 2017. She now lives in Laramie, where she is the executive director of a Wyoming-based coalition of social justice, labor, and conservation groups. She also serves on the Laramie City Council. Jordan Schreiber was born and raised in Jackson Hole. She served as the chair of the Teton County Democratic Party from 2012 to 2014. She now lives in Washington D.C., where she works in policy and advocacy for a national conservation organization. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.

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(15) comments

Broughton Coburn

I appreciate that Stoner and Schreiber are committed to their causes, but I'm not sure why I should automatically recognize their self-appointed roles as spokespersons for black lives, nor for what matters. A recent New York Times article ("Liberal Blind Spots Are Hiding the Truth About ‘Trump Country’", 7/19/2018) succinctly refers to this sub-class of activists as "college-educated white liberals [who] signal superior virtue while denying the sins of their own place and class." I'm a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, yet I don't believe that Grizzly Lives Matter commandeers, diminishes, or dilutes Black Lives Matter. One might argue that it favorably invokes it. (BLM is not copyrighted or trademarked, anyway, as far as I know.) I'd suggest that the authors check their own privilege, and examine whether they are sufficiently empowered to demand that others check theirs. Grizzly bears are not particularly good at speaking for themselves, and any effort to draw attention to their plight is to be applauded. Perhaps, one day, we can all be inclusive enough to regard grizzly bears, wildlife -- and all the diverse groups of human life -- in our concept of what matters. In the meantime, one would hope that the authors can find better things to do with their time than jumping at an obscure opportunity to signal virtue and play syntax police -- especially as we collectively face tremendously larger issues, national and global (not to mention environmental), that are in need of our attention and activism.

Jay Westemeier

I usually try to steer away from this kind of opinionated social justice article, but couldn't. In my opinion, this is yet another attempt to turn what is a universally debated wildlife management issue into a social issue. Just having the word "Grizzly" in the title is nothing but reader bait. It's a tactic being used by activists worldwide, and is similar to the rampant scripted and choreographed propaganda being spewed by the mainstream media, political parties, and political activist organizations intent on disrupting our country's diverse ways of life. The constant social justice preaching that is overtaking our everyday lives is yet another potential weapon that is being used to tear our country apart by our true enemies around the world. No matter how far right or left you lean politically, this type of article should bother you.

Sofia Jarmillo Staff
Sofia Jaramillo

A comment has been removed because it violates our commenting policy. Please no personal attacks on groups or individuals. Thank you. - JHNG Audience Engagement Producer

David Malinsky

What about the personal attack on the police by the author??

Sam Parks

This piece seems to have been written with the purpose of driving a wedge between two different groups working on issues that are both enormously important. What positive purpose does this serve other than to divide? I’m truly embarrassed that JHNG would even agree to print this.

Chad guenter

Mr. Parks: JHNG has long shown it's leanings towards the left side of the Propaganda spectrum.

Sam Parks

As a supporter of BLM and racial, social, and environmental justice for all of gods creatures, I find this to be one of the most illogical diatribes that has ever appeared in JHNG and that is not an exaggeration.

Isabel Loe

Great article Phoebe, thanks for speaking up about this.

sean henry

this garbage belongs in JH Planet not here.you are an activist pretending to be a journalist

J Love Staff
Johanna Love

Hi Sean, the Guest Shot is an opinion piece, not an article written by journalists. We try to clearly label it as such. Thank you for joining the conversation.

Chad guenter

Ms. Love: The authors like SO MANY in the media today, are not "journalists", they are PROPAGANDISTS!

TERRENCE MILAN

Lighten up. That phrase has been rephrased one thousand times over. You wouldn't have criticized gays for similar rephrasing because that would be abhorrent to your righteous white credo. You are privileged whites whose job you feel is to create racial tension and view everything as a tool to support your phoney jobs. Drawing racial divisions doesn't make you much different from alt-right KKK groups. You share the same goals.

Noah Osnos

This is only a Guest Shot. While I agree that the phrase has been appropriated for many other social justice causes, it clearly does not belittle the original cause the precipitated the slogan. It is important that we continue to think about, and even devote ourselves, to the lesser-advantaged beings in our world (both human and otherwise). I hope that lightens things a bit :-)

TERRENCE MILAN

"lesser advantaged humans"? Wow, please explain lesser and who is lesser. I'm sure the lessers of the world just eagerly await. 😬

Chad guenter

The product of today's ameriKan Social Justices Warriors...….

Irrational, ignorant, racism.

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