Philadelphia, PA - The United States of America is no stranger to civil organizations, and Black Lives Matter is one of them. It started in 2013 as a response to Black-violence and inequity, especially in the form of law enforcement brutality. According to research, Black people are 3.2 times as likely as white people to be killed during a police encounter. In Chicago, over 650% of Black Chicagoans are more likely to be killed than Whites. Although it started as a simple social media post, the BLM now has over 40 chapters and is gaining worldwide recognition. Let us take you through the movement's history and impact over the last decade.
What is the Black Lives Matter movement?
The Black Lives Matter human rights movement is a campaign against systemic racism and violence towards Black people. It began in 2013 with the Facebook hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. This was after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting to death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Reacting to the acquittal, Alicia Garza wrote the words “Black people” on her page: “I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.”
Patrisse Cullors is Alicia Garza's close friend. They met through the Black Leadership for Organizing and Dignity. Patrisse reacted to the social media post by using the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” in her Facebook post. Their third friend, Opal Torneti, contributed to the vision, and a freedom movement was born.
The hashtag did not gain sufficient traction in 2013, despite appearing on Twitter 5,106 times in the second half of 2013. But the killing of another Black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, in 2014 at the hand of a white officer set the wheels rolling. Today, the hashtag is one of the most discussed movements in the United States.
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Black Lives Matter History
America is one of the most diverse nations. Black communities in the US have a rich history spanning centuries. Let us trace the timeline of events to identify how BLM started.
The Trayvon Martin shooting
BLM started in 2013 after George Zimmerman shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to death in Florida. The black teenager was unarmed and was walking in his neighborhood after visiting a convenience store. Regardless, Zimmerman was acquitted as there was no evidence except his testimony of self-defense from an argument. Interestingly, Zimmerman, a neighborhood-watch volunteer, radioed law enforcement because he thought Martin looked “suspicious.” Although the police told him not to do anything, he followed Martin, claimed he got into an argument, and shot him. Zimmerman remained free for weeks, but as the killing gained nationwide recognition and demonstration spread across the states, he was arrested. At his trial more than a year later, he was acquitted of second-degree murder since he acted in self-defense.
The Eric Garner and Michael Brown Murders
In July 2014, just months after Zimmerman’s acquittal, Eric Garner died in New York after officers put him in a prohibited chokehold during an arrest. Garner repeated the words “I can’t breathe” 11 times, and the footage of the incident gained nationwide publicity. His body was left on the ground for four hours before he was transported to the city morgue. Bystanders recorded the event, and the news spread throughout the states. Local protesters rocked Ferguson and other parts of the nation as they did after the murder of Trayvon Martin.
The George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor Murders
In May 2020, another unarmed man, George Floyd, died after Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis officer, knelt on his neck for over 9 minutes. Like Garner, he repeated the words “I can’t breathe” until he died. But unlike other protests, the video of Floyd’s last minutes triggered massive demonstrations around the globe. The death also brought to national attention the earlier deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
In February 2020, Arbery was followed, confronted, and killed by two white men during a jog. In the following months, Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was killed at her apartment during a botched police raid. These deaths swayed public opinion to favor BLM and drew attention to inequity in America. Although Chauvin was found guilty of murder, it was rare for a case of law enforcement violence to end with a conviction.
Basic principles of the Black Lives Matter movement
The BLM movement has many goals. But the most fundamental one is to draw attention to ways black people are marginalized and treated unfairly in states. Not only this, but the ways institutions and policies help to perpetuate injustice. The BLM movement uses letter-writing campaigns, nonviolent protests, and political actions to combat abuses committed by for- profit jails, the over-policing of minority society, and police brutality.
BLM activists have called for the defunding of the police. It means the government should reduce the law enforcement department budgets and use the money to invest in community services like conflict resolution and mental health. The movement has also called for better officer training and accountability for misconduct. In addition, activists strive to register voters and encourage black communities to vote.
Support and Critique of the BLM movement?
Public opinion on BLM was net negative in 2018. But it steadily grew through 2019 and 2020, so much so that most Americans supported the organization. Even footballers “took a knee” to pay homage to Floyd’s death before every match. African Americans and minority groups supported BLM, while the reception was less than 50% among whites. Notably, there was a division among political parties, as a vast majority of Democrats expressed support in contrast to a few Republicans. The critics maintained that white supremacy and systemic unfairness do not exist in America. In response, white nationalists formed opposition groups like Blue Lives and White Lives Matter.
The influence of BLM was noted in the last US presidential election. President Donald Trump harshly criticized BLM, while Democrat Joe Biden embraced Black Voters. Many believed it was instrumental in his eventual victory.
Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi started BLM. Their project has grown into a member-led global network of over 40 chapters. It was a necessary political and ideological intervention to save Black lives targeted for demise. The organization works towards justice and amplifying anti-Black inequity across the country. It extends to black men, women, and queer people.