In today’s turbulent and highly polarizing political climate, a number of movements have strived to settle political and social issues that have long gone unaddressed. Though legislation over the years has advanced the voting opportunities, educational and social rights of African Americans, little has been done to improve their general treatment and perception by the legal system. From racial profiling by police officers to the astronomical discrepancy between black and white incarcerations (said to be a proportional difference of over 500%), African Americans still face a number of statistical and social disadvantages at a number of levels of the legal system. Regardless of one’s position on the issues represented by the Black Lives Matter Movement, it is hard to deny that the protests have garnered a great deal of public attention and even support.
How It All Started
Though much of the discourse surrounding the Black Lives Matter Movement concerns police brutality and treatment of African Americans in the legal system, the roots of the movement came following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2013 by local neighborhood watchmen George Zimmerman and more specifically, his acquittal for the incident. Though the event was not carried out by police officers, it prompted a societal conversation on racial prejudice as a whole society. Protesters questioned if Martin’s skin color had the most to do with the shooting and if he would have shot a white teenager. Put simply, Zimmerman’s rash actions as a civilian were just as troubling to people as events involving police because they showed racial tensions and prejudices that were previously not as glaring. The incident prompted three like-minded African American women to first post the iconic hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter. Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors launched the now well known slogan feeling that the Trayvon Martin verdict indicated a disrespect and devaluation of black citizens by the legal system. Garza, Tometi and Cullors felt that the acquittal made light of the young man’s death and its effect on family and society.
While some political pundits have an idea of the Black Lives Matter movement as a violent and messy struggle, it is important to recognize that the intents of the movement are best illustrated by their many acts of nonviolent protest. One of the first of many such events was launched by movement founder Alicia Garza and was carried out in San Francisco on Black Friday, 2014. For several hours, on what is already one of the most chaotic days of the year, Garza and other activists waited on the platform at a Bay Area Rapid Transit station. Looking to make a statement regarding the killing of Michael Brown, the activists waited for the arriving trains to empty of all passengers. After the trains were vacant, they proceeded to prevent them from moving or leaving the station. To do so, Garza and her associates used locks, chains and pipes to wedge the doors to the vehicle. To further prevent riders from using the trains, demonstrators formed a human chain. Though the police were able to disperse the demonstration eventually, the group managed to suspend train service for over two hours.
Grass Roots In The Truest Sense
As the Huffington Post notes in the article “The Dynamic History of #BlackLivesMatter Explained,” the rapid and massive success of the movement across the nation stems mostly from exposure via social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. It would seem that the anonymity of the internet has allowed many oppressed and overlooked groups to voice their concerns to broader society. Thanks largely to the sharing and reposting of the hashtag and other surrounding information and awareness, the national movement now known as Black Lives Matter was formed. The movement gained voices in the aftermath of the events surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson Missouri in 2014.
Following Brown’s death, public sentiment became greatly divided. With many mourning what they saw as an unprovoked killing, and many others taking the side of the authorities, the shooting and the debate surrounding it came to be very politically polarizing on a national level. Though the officer charged with the shooting was acquitted of the killing, numerous varying accounts of the scene leading up to the shooting made the exact sequence of events somewhat unclear from a legal standpoint. With this unfortunate ambiguity, many vocal Liberals and Conservatives took strong and opposing stances on the event.
This and similar events would cause some of the more Conservative minded members of American law enforcement to express their own feelings of alienation and judgement. As a result, some law enforcement officials and their friends and family put forth their own counter movement. The new movement, which they dubbed “Blue Lives Matter,” was said to advocate for the rights and respect of law enforcement officials. Though members insist that their rhetoric and beliefs are not explicitly or pointedly racially motivated, the Blue Lives Matter movement have often alleged that police officers were not being valued, especially in light of the many recent accidental or wrongful death events reported to involve members of law enforcement. While the Blue Lives Matter activists draw their complaints from an undeniably pervasive attitude around authority.
Though it is difficult to say to what degree, there are certainly segments of society that lack affinity for the police, and further these people cannot be fairly thrown into one cultural category. This simplistic stance generally leads people to neglect the nuances of the issue, tending to render most of their judgements in favor of law enforcement. While the sequences and events of certain killings leave room to speculate over blame, some Black Lives Matter activists fall victim to cultural biases and group mentality. By taking the unflinching support of the police, Blue Lives activists also often fail to consider the perspective of the shooting victims, regardless of where the blame lies. Despite the great social battle between these two movements, both stand as a testament to the marketing and communication powers of the internet and social media outlets. With the influence of Facebook, Twitter and other online forums, citizens are able to witness and record events as well as spread the information before them without the help of interference of the media.
- The Dynamic History Of #BlackLivesMatter Explained – HuffPost
- Criminal Justice Fact Sheet – NAACP
- What we know about Michael Brown’s shooting – CNN
- St. Louis ex-officer acquitted in fatal shooting of black driver – CNN
- The Case Against ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Bills – The Nation
- The Bay Area Roots of Black Lives Matter – SF Weekly
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