The History of Black Lives Matter

Why Black Lives Matter is still relevant 60 years after the Civil Rights Movement.

The history of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is a familiar one, rooted in tragedy, but grown from the strength of the Black community. The group itself has evolved and taken on many forms as it has gained momentum and support. The 21st-century civil rights movement continues to take on many obstacles and spans across several countries. This article will document the origins of the group, key figures, and how it has gained traction in a “free and liberal” era.

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2013 – Hashtag Beginnings

Black Lives Matter began as a rallying cry in response to the overwhelming amount of police brutality and violence against Black communities. On July 13, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The Black teenager was walking home from the convenience store when George Zimmerman confronted and shot him. The coverage and reaction of the trial was a wake-up call to many white Americans who were too young to remember Rodney King or only focused on his traffic transgression. The biggest difference between 1992 and 2013 – this was a Black child.

The Co-founders of the movement, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Gaza, and Opal Tometi created a social media platform for Black creators and communities to connect and express their outrage. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter started trending across social media for months. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter would then spill out into the streets in 2014 when more unarmed Black men died at the hands of law enforcement.

2014 – Tragedy and Anger leads to Action

What started as a hashtag became an angry voice in 2014. Black Lives Matter took center stage to speak out against police brutality. Michael Brown Jr., another 17-year-old boy, was gunned down by law enforcement leading to weeks of civil unrest. In 2014, we also saw the murders of Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, and Tamir Rice. During this time, BLM held organized rallies, organized bail bonds, and made headway on holding the government responsible for their responses to racial inequality in America.

Chapters of BLM began to emerge in 2014 across the country. These chapters are designed to provide the local community with an ear and an actionable outlet to combat racial inequality at the municipal and state levels. BLM National was gearing up to create a multifaceted, Black-centric coalition with grassroots initiatives called the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL).

During this time, BLM would spread around the world with official chapters opening in Canada, the UK, and affiliated groups in many countries around the world, focusing on the racial injustices unique to their own countries.

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2015 to the Election – The Disappointment Heard around the World

2015 BLM came under a lot of scrutiny for “worsening the racial relations in America.” BLM worked tirelessly to change the policies in government and hold them accountable. During this time, BLM saw the enactment of consent decree issuance for police forces, a downgrade of weapons in local police forces, and “pattern and practice” investigations. BLM also made calls for the end of “qualified immunity” status for police officers to hold them accountable. During this time, protest was leading to steps taken in governance.

While governance changes were slow, and on a federal level, the dialogue was about to change. During the 2016 election race, BLM was on everyone’s agenda. BLM posed questions to the presidential candidates that were relevant to the protection of Black communities. BLM activists, Brittany Packnett, Samuel Sinyangwe, DeRay Mckesson, and Johnetta Elzie would introduce Campaign Zero, a 10-point program to defund and reorganize police forces to end police brutality. This campaign was discussed at length with candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. BLM would also engage communities and help increase voter turn out. Many who voted in the 2016 election were swayed by their opinions of BLM.

The first Black president, Barak Obama, was replaced with current president Donald Trump. President Trump is outspoken about his harmful views on immigration, women, climate change, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump was another wake-up call, but this time for white people to see the unbridled racism in their own communities.

During this time, celebrities began to speak out against racial violence, as 2016 saw an increasing number of unarmed Black people being killed at the hands of police. Black and supporting athletes began to take a knee during the National Anthem as a show of support. Most notably, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, who would be blackballed for his political statements. Celebrities also used their platforms to draw attention specifically to the movement at various events.

2016-2019 – The Trump Era of Politics

Throughout the election, other hashtags began to take hold and become more prominent. The racially dismissive #AllLivesMatter #BlueLivesMatter and #WhiteLivesMatter became synonymous with President Trump. In the first year of his presidency, the world bore witness to the unmasking of white supremacy, still alive and well, in parts of the United States. Hate crimes would continue to rise with no response from people in positions of power. BLM stepped up again.

While BLM received less coverage, they were still working to enact policies and highlight the racial injustices that still existed in the community. During this time, BLM organized many exhibitions relating to Black history, the arts, and social justice. They held regular rallies in support of the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.), the conditions of prisons and imprisonment, and the continued police brutality.

2020 – We’re Back!…. But Did We Ever Leave?

COVID-19 and Health Care

2020 was another catalyst year. BLM would make headlines again on a global scale starting with bringing awareness to the injustices in the quality of care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic communities saw higher rates of infection (Black Americans made up 25% of deaths from Covid-19 in the US though they make up a little under 13% of the US population), but lower quality of care, which BLM brought attention to.

They also bore the brunt of the economic crisis as Black Americans faced continued discrimination in the work sectors with low wages and business shutdowns. Black Lives Matter set up web resources for Black communities to access care and financial relief as well as organized protests to #CancelRent to protect vulnerable people.

Police Brutality Continues

In February, the world learned about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot by vigilantes while out for a jog. Black Lives Matter staged protests, calling for the arrests of the 3 men, and put pressure on the DA to press charges. In May, the men were arrested. But soon after, the world learned of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

George Floyd is a spark that put BLM back in the news with the largest protest to be held in the United States to date. The video of George Floyd’s death due to Minneapolis police negligence and brutality was shown around the world, with solidarity marches being staged by BLM global chapters and human rights coalitions in many major cities. Due to the overwhelming pressure from BLM and its supporters, the 4 police officers were arrested.

Breonna Taylor was an EMT who was killed in her home on a No-Knock warrant for another individual. At the time of publishing, the officers still have not been arrested. BLM is currently petitioning the Louisville PD and working to get justice for Breonna and her family. Due to overwhelming pressure and support, Breonna’s Law was enacted to end No-Knock warrants and require the use of body cams.

Thousands of people demonstrate in Cologne, Germany, Saturday June 6, 2020, to protest against racism and the recent killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, USA. His death has led to Black Lives Matter protests in many countries and across the US. A US police officer has been charged with the death of George Floyd. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Present Day Initiatives.

BLM modified the original Campaign Zero to the #8can’twait to demand the defunding and reallocation of funds to police forces. During the protests, BLM arranged bailout funds for protesters, arranged for legal representation and works closely with various coalitions to organize safe protests during a pandemic.

In June, under the guidance of the Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block, and BLM activists, Minneapolis city council voted to defund it’s police force and employ a non-violent approach to non-violent crimes. In LA, the police budget was slashed by 100 million dollars. Soon other cities began to follow suit. School districts also severed ties to police forces in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle, and many other districts across the country due to pressure from the Black communities.

In July, Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) put forward legislation; supported by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib; called the Breathe Act. This legislation would divest and reallocate police funding into Black communities. It is currently before congress.

Black Lives Matter has also put pressure on the electoral system in several states to allow absentee voting due to the pandemic and the lack of polling stations in Black neighborhoods. They also continue to discuss the issue of the closing of polling stations and access in Black neighborhoods. BLM also has staged several voting drives, to encourage the Black community to vote and make their voices heard. M4BL also has an ongoing campaign for Project 2024 – Black Power Rising. This campaign encourages Black communities to run for positions of power in their communities and provides them with tools to help them.

There is a lot going on in the world today, and BLM is still making moves and changing the world for Black communities and, I believe, will continue to do so. This is by no means a comprehensive look at this massive movement that has deep historic roots. While racist monuments fall and protests rage on, it is important to remember that Black Lives Matter is not just a regulated set group of people in any one place, at any one time. It is organic and is constantly evolving and changing. One thing that is consistent in the history of this monolithic movement, is that Black Lives STILL Matter. Yesterday. Today. Always.

Editor: Lisa Espinosa
Copy Editor: Valerie Merrick

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