Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter #BLM

Egan Ojunga, Fall 2020

Black Lives Matter is an organization created by the people for the people. Some, however, believe the group is formed to cause problems and havoc to the country. Many of the cases of violence against African Americans that took place in recent years were downplayed, and the results in these cases just showed how the justice system was failing African Americans. So this organization was formed to give voice to the people who were a victim and lost their lives to racial injustice.

A terrorist organization is what Black Lives Matter gets called by its critics. The definition of a terrorist is a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.[1] This is what the Black Lives Matter movement is classified as to some people who think the movement’s tactics are terrorist-like.

Hashtags and social media were the organization’s first steps to get their message out to the public. This movement was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.[2] Their goal was to end systemic racism, gun violence, and police brutality against African Americans. Black Lives Movement feels that even though legalized systematic racism is over and African Americans have the same right as whites, “racial abuse still exists.” The evidence of this belief is seen over and over by the killing of unarmed Black men and women by white police officers.

This movement’s timeline goes as following. On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teen. The organization called for the arrest of George Zimmerman by posting a petition on a website that received over 1.3 million signatures. A month after Trayvon Martin’s death rallies occurred across the country, the organization received support from the likes of a New York State Senator, who wore a hoodie in the capitol chamber on March 3, 2012, in honor of Trayvon Martin. The hoodie was a symbol used by many who supported the organization because Trayvon Martin had his hoodie on when the shooting occurred. Many believed he was racially profiled for this action of just wearing a hoodie. Congressman Bobby Rush showed his support on March 28, 2012, when speaking on the House Floor. He wore a hoodie and was removed from the house while giving his speech due to this.

On April 4, 2012, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), led by Chairman Emanuel Cleaver and Reps. Alcee Hastings, Corrine Brown, and Frederica Wilson, gave their take on the Trayvon case by saying it was time for legislators to look into “Stand your Ground” laws, adopted in over 20 states. A Stand your Ground law is what enabled George Zimmerman to be free while the investigation of this case was going on. It permits the use of deadly force against another person in certain situations in one’s own home or the surrounding property.[3] The CBC thought it was crucial to shine a light on this “controversial, dangerous, and sometimes deadly law.” On April 11, 2012, George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder. The Stand Your Ground for Justice Town Hall was held in Sanford, Florida, sponsored by the National Bar Association. July 13, 2012, George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, which caused the first massive protest to occur in which 1,000 people staged a sit-in in Times Square. All these protests were done peacefully and were formed to just bring enlightenment to the racial injustice that was occurring in America.

Even after this case, more unarmed African Americans were killed. For example, a year later on July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was murdered by police in Long Island. The video of the incident was released by the New York Daily News on September 18, 2014. In this video, you could see a police officer choking Garner and see Garner gasping, “I can’t breathe.” Before having a seizure, when the EMT arrived at the scene, they found Eric Garner unresponsive. This case was unusual in a few ways. EMT’s who were first on the scene of the Eric Garner case after he went into cardiac arrest were suspended without pay on July 21, 2014, due to delayed response on his death. A video surfaced of these EMT’s doing nothing other than checking Garner’s pulse two minutes before he was hoisted onto a stretcher. Not much was done to resuscitate him. This footage angered the Black Lives Matter supporters, and I would like to think anyone who has a humane bone in their body would feel something toward this case.

On July 22, 2014, about 100 people gathered for a vigil and marched for Eric Garner in Tompkinsville, Kentucky. Supporters didn’t stop there; hundreds also gathered in Brooklyn for Garner’s funeral, including his six children. On August 1, 2014, the city’s medical examiner ruled Eric Garner’s death a homicide, saying a chokehold killed him. After this finding, it was announced that the case would go to a grand jury. The grand jury’s decision came on December 3, 2014, in which the grand jury chose not to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner. Hundreds of protests break out across the city in support of Eric Garner.[4] Thousands of people protested in NYC, blocking traffic, shutting down the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridge. This case touched many people, even some big names such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, players in the NBA wore #icantbreathe shirts in solidarity during a basketball game. The Black Congressional staffers’ likewise staged a #HandsUpDon’tShoot Walkout in support of Garner and Michael Brown.

Even after all these cases, after all these videos surfaced and all this attention brought to the light for police brutality against African Americans, it seemed like nothing changed. On August 8, 2014, an 18-year-old named Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. As soon as the BLM movement got word of Michael Brown’s death, they organized a bus ride to Ferguson, Missouri, supporting protesters. On August 10, 2014, a massive protest erupted in Ferguson relating to the death of Michael Brown. On August 12, 2014, Barack Obama spoke on the death of Michael Brown. Protesters continue protesting the streets of Ferguson. Some protesters protested peacefully while others leaned towards looting stores causing damage to businesses and stores. Police got involved in trying and diffusing the situation, by teargassing protesters. Massive news coverage across the world covered this event. United State Senator Claire McCaskill addressed Ferguson’s people and alerted them that the military presence in Ferguson increased due to the protests in Ferguson. On August 15, 2014, other protests broke out in cities across the country regarding the Ferguson protesters.

One key movement that the BLM put together was a protest in St. Louis on August 30, 2014, where protesters stopped traffic for four and a half hours as a symbolic tribute to the amount of time police left Brown lying on the road. In November of that year, the grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson. This ruling angered many people, so the protesting continued. Many people in St Louis marched for the indictment of Darren Wilson and police reform. Thousands of protesters march to the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C.[5] Protesters in New York marched to Times Square. The BLM movement went worldwide after this ruling. The London Black Revolution organized a protest outside of the London Embassy. On November 26, 2014, more states and cities protested. Los Angeles protestors shut down the 101 highway in LA. About 200 members of the Black Youth project staged a sit-in outside Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.[6] November 28, 2014, thousands of activists launch a thing called blackout Friday, shutting down malls and highways across the country.

The Black lives movement released a “Black State of The Union” address on January 1, 2015. On February 1, 2015, the African American Policy Forum brought light to police brutality against African American Women after the death of Sandra Bland. They coined the hashtag #sayhername. Later that spring, Freddie Gray was killed in the custody of the police in Baltimore on April 18, 2015. The next day a protest broke out, and this one wasn’t so peaceful. Police vehicles were set on fire, stores were looted, businesses were destroyed, and streets were trashed.

By 2019, the Black Lives Movement had changed course and made their objective of getting President Trump out of office. The BLM movement updated their site after the 2020 election and wrote about how proud they were for getting Trump out of office and for electing the first African American female vice president. Even after this, the people of BLM believe their work isn’t done. They want to see the newly elected president and vice president “accountable to their campaign commitments of addressing systemic racism.”

The fear of losing a loved on to police brutality is a norm that the African American community has to live with these days. The fear of going out and having an incident with the police and not knowing if you will come out alive or not isn’t a feeling that any human being should feel especially if you are not putting the officer’s life in danger, but this is the America in which African Americans live in today. All these cases I have mentioned in this paper have caused many parents to talk with their children. It’s sickening to imagine having to explain to a child that if they don’t act accordingly, they could lose their life only due to their skin color.

#BLM brought light to police brutality, and I feel that’s all they did. Maybe some protest wasn’t peaceful, but most were and still no change. At some point you get tired of being soft-spoken and asking for something in a “polite” way, so you yell, and you say it rudely. Still, you repeatedly ask peacefully, and not receiving it is what brings this other side out of you. Police are supposed to serve and protect. How can you protect when you cause people to fear you and not see you as a protecting figure?

Black Lives Matter started off as a movement, I would like to think, but as it grew, it became an organization due to the publicity and support it received. As a movement it’s diffused across the world, and people invest in the sole right of believing the murder of unarmed African Americans is wrong. It has also evolved into an organization because of the publicity it’s gained, and now it has to portray a form of professionalism. Its critics see this movement as terrorism due to the violent and looting that occurs when protesters protest. But African Americans got tired of asking nicely and seeing no change, so I feel as if protesters doing things this way is their way of screaming and demanding a change.

Notes

[1] Readers’ Forum Part 2, June 20, 2020: Who are the real …. https://www.tribstar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/readers-forum-part-2-june-20-2020-who-are-the-real-american-terrorists/article_5e629b22-b1b1-11ea-b1d7-837dd46a662b.html

[2] New and Social Media – Comm 2.0. https://lakelandcom.weebly.com/new-and-social-media-posts/opinion-forum-blacklivesmatter

[3] Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine | NH Issue Brief …. https://www.citizenscount.org/issues/stand-your-groundcastle-doctrine

[4] Black Lives Matter Timeline – Georgetown University. https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/1040691/Black%20Lives%20Matter%20Timeline%20.pdf?sequence=1

[5] This Day in History: Sept. 12 | Fox News. https://www.foxnews.com/us/this-day-in-history-sept-12

[6] More than 170 U.S. cities protest Ferguson decision …. https://wgntv.com/news/more-than-170-u-s-cities-protest-ferguson-decision-tuesday/

Further Reading

Black Lives Matter website https://blacklivesmatter.com/

Worcester State University Fall 2020