Black Lives Matter
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“”When people say black lives matter, it does not mean blue lives don’t matter. All lives matter. But the big concern is that the data shows that black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents. This isn’t a matter of us comparing the value of lives, this is recognizing that there is a particular burden is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens and we should care about that. We can’t dismiss it.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a grassroots human rights activist movement and Twitter hashtag that began in July 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of African American teenager Trayvon Martin.
The movement gained momentum in 2014 following the killings of Michael Brown, John Crawford III and Eric Garner. BLM leaders have met with prominent leaders such as the Kenyan Marxist and have staged many protests in the aftermath of those killings, notably the mass protests in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.
BLM has encountered harsh opposition from conservative groups in the United States and other run-of-the-mill racists. This usually takes the form of loaded questions such as "Why not 'All Lives Matter'?", a move that reveals a profound ignorance of the central message of BLM: when it comes to the police, black lives don't always matter while white lives generally do.
The Founding Mothers
The movement was founded by three women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, who were members of BOLD (Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity).
- Alicia Garza: a community organizer who currently is the Special Projects Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
- Patrisse Cullors: a Los Angeles, California artist and playwright, she was kicked out of her home when she came out as queer. She was largely inspired by the brutalization of her then 19-year old brother in a Los Angeles County jail. She's also influential in the movement's extensive use of social media to bring awareness to police brutality.
- Opal Tometi: a daughter of Nigerian immigrants. She's the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
By its very nature as a largely "leaderless" movement, many people using the hashtag and going to rallies may not be familiar with the founders or their positions on other issues. Just like many people calling themselves "Anonymous" don't necessarily support — or know about — the entirety of issues that Anonymous cares about. The fact that black lives matter, however, is consensus among all who consider themselves part of the movement, for obvious reasons.
In general, BLM supporters believe that the right to due process includes black people, and that intentionally killing an innocent black person is bad (what would usually be considered extrajudicial punishment).
Support for Palestinians and BDS
Given the leaderless nature of BLM, it is difficult to make blanket statements about what the movement supports outside of its core mission of exposing and resisting police violence. That said, BLM has reflected the historical tendency of African-American activists to support Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. Prominent BLM activists have come out in support of the BDS movement: Patrisse Cullors — along with a thousand other black activists — was a signatory of a 2015 letter "reaffirm[ing] solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and commitment to the liberation of Palestine's land and people". The statement calls for "black and U.S. institutions to support the Palestinian call for boycotts of Israel" and declares that "refugees' right to return to their homeland in present-day Israel is the most important aspect of justice for Palestinians".
Moreover, Washington Post columnist Colbert King links the growing support for Palestinians in the BLM movement with what is perceived as an insulting behavior of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toward US President Barack Obama. Obama's national security advisor, Susan Rice, is reported to have said that Netanyahu has done everything except "use 'the N-word' in describing the president." Even The Jerusalem Post has noted that Netanyahu has "burned bridges" with black Americans, including the Congressional Black Caucus.
In October 2015, a Black-Palestinian solidarity video featuring musician Lauryn Hill, actor Danny Glover, Palestinian BDS founder Omar Barghouti and other black and Palestinian activists trended at #1 on Facebook. The video's theme is "When I see them, I see us."
During the uprising in Ferguson, Palestinians took to the Internet to show their own support for African-American protestors, tweeting advice on how to deal with tear gas and other crowd-control methods used by police.
Stance on the 2016 Presidential race
During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted events of all Democratic candidates (including the irrelevant, unelectable ones) but none of the Republicans. Bit by bit, Sanders and Clinton (mostly) came around to the goals of the movement, though Clinton still disagreed with the means and proposed a more compromise-based approach.
Support for the Cuban dictatorship
BLM faced backlash during July 2021 after calling for the end of the U.S. government’s embargo on Cuba while praising the country for its “solidarity with oppressed peoples of African descent”. This has drawn the ire of academics and organizers who said that while the decades long embargo should be lifted, the statement both lets the Cuban government off the hook for its own history of systemic racism and ignores the protesters’ demands for change, also arguing that BLM was effectively supporting the the exploitation of Cuban workers. Only a few months before the George Floyd protests in US, the Cuban dictatorship prevented protests over the killing by police of a black man.
Support for Jussie Smollett
On December 9, 2021, actor and musician Jussie Smollett was convicted on five felony accounts for staging and faking a hate crime in January 2019. As the trial was coming to a close, BLM issued a statement in solidarity with Smollett, calling the trial a “white supremacist charade”, equating the case to murder of Fred Hampton, and overall claiming that the case was yet another example of racism in police and the justice system. Given that Smollett had, among other things, paid his co-conspirators by check, white supremacy was decidedly not the issue in this case.
Spreading the message
BLM has spread outside the US. For example, the Ethiopian Jews in Israel who — or whose ancestors — were airlifted to that country during Operation Solomon by the Israeli government, now engage in BLM protests against racism and police brutality in that country. The UK has also seen the BLM movement expand there. It has spread to include the transgender black community as well. Native Americans have adopted the slogan as "#NativeLivesMatter", but a Latino counterpart has been slow to organize. In the Philippines, people have drawn parallels with the killing of George Floyd in the US and the police brutality and extrajudicial killings under Rodrigo Duterte regime.
Government hostility and surveillance
Just as the FBI targeted 1960s civil rights activists during the COINTELPRO era, so too does the government today undertake surveillance of BLM activists, and no doubt compiles dossiers on many of them. The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring the Black Lives Matter movement since protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri over the cop shooting of Michael Brown. DHS collects information, including location data, on BLM activities from public social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, and Vine.
The NYPD is using undercover officers in "monitor[ing BLM] activists, tracking their movements and keeping individual photos of them on file." Moreover:
The Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Metro-North Railroad, reveal more on-the-ground surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists...conducted by a coalition of MTA counterterrorism agents and undercover police in conjunction with NYPD intelligence officers.
.…[documents reveal] undercover police officers, reporting on group sizes, and the tracking of protesters’ movements around the city, particularly the movements of New York's "People's Monday" protests, which focus attention on, and demonstrate on behalf of, victims of police brutality, and which repeatedly convene at Grand Central. Some of the reports go further than tracking group movements, however, referring to specific activists and including photos of them…
In another document from a December 7 protest for Eric Garner, Detective Keyla Hammam, …shared a photo of prominent activist and former Philadelphia police officer Ray Lewis. An undercover police officer made an entry accompanying Hammam’s photo, mentioning Lewis' past activities with Occupy Wall Street and stating: "A retired Philadelphia Police Officer in uniform is one of the protesters at Grand Central Terminal. He is also known to NYPD as a protestor in OWS and has an arrest record with NYPD."
Additionally, the Criminal Justice Division of the Oregon Department of Justice has secretly surveilled Oregonians who use the Black Lives Matter hashtag on Twitter — including the state’s director of civil rights, Erious Johnson. It is unconstitutional and thus illegal for the government to target individuals based on exercising their First Amendment free speech rights. As the ACLU puts it, "The simple act of expressing concern about racial justice on social media should not be enough to trigger information gathering by the Oregon Department of Justice."
Repression in spaces that used to be public
Historically, downtown areas and public parks have been venues for robust First Amendment activity and protests. But, in an era of increasing privatization, public areas have been greatly diminished. This has allowed private entities to prohibit protests that would have occurred in prior times. The distinction between a private area and a public area can be unclear, as it is with the massive Mall of America, just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. Taxpayers coughed up $186 million of the mall's $886 million cost, yet, in the case of State v. Wicklund, Minnesota's conclusion was that,
…Under the circumstances here neither the presence of public financing alone nor the public financing coupled with an invitation to the public to come onto the property is sufficient to transform privately-owned property into public property for purposes of state action.
Or basically, "Yeah, they took 186 million from the general public, but you still can't do anything there."
(For most purposes, the constitutional protection of freedom of speech does not restrain private entities from abridging speech.)
BLM has sought many times to hold protests at the Mall of America, the largest mall in the U.S. A December 23, 2015 protest over the fatal police shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark was planned, but Mall management had the location "locked down" and the protesters had no sooner entered than they were led away by a throng of cops. Moreover:
[M]all attorneys won restraining orders against three protest organizers, even as they lost a more ambitious bid to force Black Lives Matter Minneapolis to take down all mentions of the protest on social media and to declare the demonstration cancelled…
Mall of America’s ability to so zealously suppress the December 23 protest there highlights how, in a nation where more and more public life takes place in privatized spaces, the ability to exercise First Amendment rights has become increasingly contingent…
"In the eyes of the law, those spaces for speech can be shut down and subject to arbitrary censorship in ways that the public square cannot,” said Teresa Nelson, legal director for the ACLU of Minnesota…"
Spokespersons for the Mall paid lip service to respecting free speech rights, but stated that "the courts have affirmed our right as private property owners to prohibit demonstrations on our property."
Law enforcement members and multiple media outlets tried to pin several shooting deaths of members of law enforcement on BLM and the so-called “war on cops" that the movement purportedly has caused. But it turned out that, contrary to early reporting, Fox Lake, Illinois police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz killed himself, and Houston Dep. Darren Goforth was murdered by a mentally-ill man who had previously almost killed a guy during an argument over what to watch on TV.
Edward R. Murrows RWNJs at Fox "News" have variously called BLM: "terrorists", "an extreme group, the Nazi Party", "like the Ku Klux Klan", "garbage", and, of course, "divisive". This crew also hosted a law enforcement officer who announced "there is no police brutality in the United States." If that's not enough, they are constantly tied into the horrifying conspiracy theories surrounding antifascist militias, despite the extremely varying ties between those groups and BLM.
BLM's opponents have made vicious threats and personal attacks against some of the more prominent speakers of the movement. DeRay McKesson has been attacked for his opposition to the Confederate flag in South Carolina subsequent to Dylann Roof's racism-fueled murder of black people in their church. Shaun King was accused of lying about his racial background by Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos (of Gamergate infamy) who "revealed" that King's birth certificate said both his parents were white and compared him to Rachel Dolezal, forcing King to reveal that his mother had had an affair with a black man who is his actual biological father.
"All Lives Matter"?
“”Yes, all lives matter but we are focused on the black ones because it is very apparent that our judicial system does not know this.
Many have countered with "All lives matter". The problem is neatly illustrated by a Reddit user:
Imagine that you're sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don't get any. So you say "I should get my fair share." And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, "everyone should get their fair share." Now, that's a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad's smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn't solve the problem that you still haven't gotten any!
The problem is that the statement "I should get my fair share" had an implicit "too" at the end: "I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else." But your dad's response treated your statement as though you meant "only I should get my fair share", which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that "everyone should get their fair share," while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out. ...
...Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase "black lives matter" also has an implicit "too" at the end: it's saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying "all lives matter" is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It's a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means "only black lives matter," when that is obviously not the case. And so saying "all lives matter" as a direct response to "black lives matter" is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.
All Lives Matter is also a white supremacist dogwhistle. Although it may seem innocuous (who doesn't think that all lives matter?), it's used by white supremacists to delegitimize the concerns of black people.
Had "All Lives Matter" arisen as a slogan on its own, then it would not be as problematic as it is. However, "All Lives Matter" arose as a direct response to the phrase "Black Lives Matter". "Black Lives Matter" arose as a manageable abbreviation for saying:
- "Black lives matter as much as any other life; unfortunately, the history and effects of systemic racism in our country, along with those of the implicit discrimination built into the foundation of so many of the country's civic systems, give credence to the idea that many people do not believe black lives matter as much as other people's lives; this should not be the way we are and it needs to be changed."
Given that context, when you respond to the claim "Black Lives Matter" by saying "All Lives Matter", you are trivializing/minimizing the experience of Blacks in the U.S. and claiming that all lives (ie. white lives) have been equally impacted by the racism and discrimination in the U.S. Basically, you are saying blacks should just pipe down.
Kris Straub has illustrated the issue with "All Lives Matter" quite nicely. Seems pretty similar to concern trolling.
Hate group "evidence"
Like most of history's revolutionary movements, BLM is not without its extremists, although those who have committed acts of violence, which goes against the ethos of the movement itself, are generally outnumbered by those who seek to commit themselves to actual activism. Such crimes are not what Black Lives Matter, on an ethical and organizational level, are about.
At a Dallas, Texas march in 2016, a member of the movement shot and killed six police officers. As reactionaries and right-wing keyboard warriors started cranking out their usual sensationalized stories about how BLM are a bunch of terrorists, the group leaders spoke out publicly and reasonably stated that it would be unfair to blame an entire movement of people on the actions of a single messed-up individual. There's a huge difference between thinking "police should stop murdering innocent people and trying to cover it up" and "police officers should die."
Later in 2016, several African American teenagers kidnapped an autistic young man after assuming, for some reason, that he was a supporter of the United States' reigning mango monarch at the time. Causing him physical torment and saying racially-charged things towards him, they recorded a video of them doing so. There were consistent suggestions by multiple parties suggesting that they were a part of the movement, and so the internet, like always, sensationalized the whole thing and started calling BLM a hate group.
It was never confirmed if the assailants were part of the organization or not, as their behaviors clearly do not align themselves with the ethics of the cause, but BLM leadership did make sure to denounce them if they were, proclaiming that there was no place for violence or hate crimes in the activist movement, as such would completely contradict its entire purpose. Any violent wings it and other groups may have are fringe at most. BLM is, first and foremost, a civil organization with a cause. It is confrontational, which provides a healthy mean between overtly pacifistic and, at the other end, violent. In other words, Aristotle would be thrilled.
Thanks to the success of Black Lives Matter, there have been groups that have attempted to emulate the movement, including the following:
- Blue Lives Matter: Founded in 2014. Blue Lives Matter was founded as a counter-movement to Black Lives Matter after two NYPD officers (Raphael Ramos and Wenjian Liu) were killed in Brooklyn, New York. Blue Lives Matter is about raising awareness about police officers getting killed. The movement's flag is a black and white flag version of the United States flag with a blue stripe. Most notably, Blue Lives Matter was responsible for a state law in Louisiana that makes targeting police officers or firefighters illegal. This was widely criticized by organizations such as the ACLU.
- White Lives Matter: A white nationalist version of Black Lives Matter, because of course. According to the SPLC, White Lives Matter was founded in 2015 by two white people, Rebecca Barnette and Kevin Harris thanks in no small part to the Neo-Nazi organization Aryan Renaissance Society. White Lives Matter has become a slogan for white nationalists and neo-Nazis who can be found in events such as Unite the Right in Charlottesville, Virginia (and chanted in combination with "Black Lives Splatter") and the "White Lives Matter" rally in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Another variant of White Lives Matter is the idea of a White Student Union.[note 2]
- Black Lives Matter's official organizing site.
- Campaign Zero: BLM's comprehensive list of police reforms.
- A Vision for Black Lives: BLM's list of reforms beyond police misconduct.
- Looking for Accountability in Police-Involved Deaths of Blacks
- The Raw Videos That Have Sparked Outrage Over Police Treatment of Blacks
- Groundhog Day for a Black Man (2016 film)
- Black Lives Matter fourth anniversary report
- See Bernie Sanders#But he's a Jew! He can't be pro-Palestine!
- One of which was founded by Traditionalist Worker Party leader Matthew Heimbach.
- Police group: Minn. governor 'exploited what was already a horrible and tragic situation' by T. Rees Shapiro et al. (July 9, 2016 at 12:36 p.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
- See the Wikipedia article on Ferguson unrest.
- See the Wikipedia article on 2015 Baltimore protests.
- Unbelievably Racist and Violently Angry White Man Threatens to Kill Black Americans by Benjamin Dixon (September 1, 2015) If You Only News.com (archived from September 2, 2015).
- Black Lives Matter Racists Strike Again: The return of the Ferguson lynch mob. by Arnold Ahlert (Aug 11, 2015) Front Page Mag Archive (archived from 3 Jan 2021 04:34:09 UTC).
- Black men nearly 3 times as likely to die from police use of force, study says by Jacqueline Howard (Updated 2221 GMT December 20, 2016) CNN.
- Queerness on the front lines of #BlackLivesMatter (Feb. 19, 2015) MSNBC.
- Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter & Ferguson Reps Take Historic Trip to Palestine by Kristian Davis Bailey (January 9, 2015) Ebony.
- View the Signatories Blacks for Palestine.
- Black activists send clear message to Palestinians: "Now is the time for Palestinian liberation, just as now is the time for our own in the United States" by David Palumbo-Liu (August 18, 2015 11:00PM UTC) Salon.
- When 'Black Lives Matter' is linked with 'Palestinian Lives Matter' by Colbert King (November 6, 2015) The Washington Post.
- JPost.com Staff, 'Netanyahu has burned his bridges with Black Democrats" (March 27, 2015 19:00) The Jerusalem Post.
- "Your walls will never cage our freedom": Black-Palestinian solidarity video goes viral by Ben Norton (October 19, 2015 7:30PM UTC) Salon.
- Palestinians tweet tear gas advice to protesters in Ferguson by Mark Molloy et al. (15 August 2014 • 10:54 am ) The Telegraph.
- Black Lives Matter's Jewish Problem Is Also a Black Problem by Chloe Valdery (August 4, 2016) Tablet.
- 'Hell You Talmbout!' #BlackLivesMatter Protesters Shout Down Hillary at Campaign Event by Josh Feldman (Oct 30th, 2015, 3:48 pm) Mediaite.
- Black Lives Matter Protesters Disrupt Clinton Campaign Event In Atlanta by Darren Sands (October 30, 2015, at 3:45 p.m. ET) BuzzFeed.
- Hillary Clinton declares 'black lives matter' by Jessica Chasmar (July 21, 2015) The Washington Times.
- Watch: Full Video of Hillary Clinton's Meeting with Black Lives Matter Activists (August 19, 2015) Democracy Now!.
- Opinion: Black Lives Matter is supporting the exploitation of Cuban workers
- Cuba prevents protest over police killing of Black man
- Statement Regarding the Ongoing Trial of Jussie Smollett (December 7, 2021) by Dr. Melina Abdullah, Black Lives Matter.
- Black Lives Matter Has Become a Global Movement by Janaya Khan (Aug. 7 2015 3:01 AM) The Root (archived from August 7, 2015).
- Thousands rally in Israel against racism and police brutality toward Ethiopian Jews by Andrew Freedman (May 03, 2015) Mashable.
- Black Lives Matter is a movement the UK needs – and our work here is just starting by Laura Barker (10 Aug 2016 10.44 EDT) The Guardian.
- Black Lives Matter rallies for transgender women after multiple murders this year so far by Rebecca Ruiz (Aug 25, 2015) Mashable.
- Native Lives Matter, Too by Lydia Millet (Oct. 13, 2015) The New York Times.
- There's a Reason You Haven’t Heard About the 'Latino Lives Matter' Movement by Britni Danielle (Mar 28, 2015) TakePart.
- Exclusive: Feds Regularly Monitored Black Lives Matter Since Ferguson: The Department of Homeland Security has used social media to closely track activists. by George Joseph (July 24 2015, 11:50 a.m.) The Intercept.
- Undercover Police Have Regularly Spied On Black Lives Matter Activists in New York: Nearly 300 MTA documents confirm that undercover officers attended numerous Black Lives Matter protests in New York and that police have tracked their movements and kept individual photos of them on file. by George Joseph (August 18 2015, 2:27 p.m.) The Intercept.
- Black Lives Matter Supporters in Oregon Targeted by State Surveillance by David Rogers (November 11, 2015 | 2:30 PM) ACLU.
- State v. Wicklund Supreme Court of Minnesota. State of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Freeman Algot Wicklund, et al., petitioners, Appellants. No. C7-97-1381. Decided: March 11, 1999. FindLaw.
- Why It’s Scary That the Mall of America Can Crush Dissent: America’s largest mall tried to shut down a Black Lives Matter protest before it began. Its right to do so stems from a long line of court rulings. by Alleen Brown (January 6 2016, 8:33 a.m.) The Intercept.
- "A partial list of pundits, politicians and media outlets who used Joseph Gliniewicz’s death to push the ‘war on cops’ narrative" by Radley Balko (November 5, 2015 at 9:57 a.m. PST) The Washington Post.
- From "Hate Group" To "Nazis": Fox News Ramps Up Their War On Black Lives Matter by Brennan Suen (10/26/15 12:41 PM EDT) Media Matters for America.
- Conservative Twitter trolls attack activist DeRay McKesson after Charleston appearances by Joanna Walters (June 23, 2015) Raw Story.
- "Activist Shaun King says man on birth certificate isn’t his biological father" by Wesley Lowery & Michael E. Miller (August 20, 2015 at 5:28 p.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
- "Race, love, hate, and me: A distinctly American story" by Shaun King (August 20, 2015 · 2:39 PM PDT) Daily Kos.
- Image: Yes, all lives matter but we are focused on the black ones because it is very apparent that our judicial system does not know this. Getty Images via BBC.
- "ELI5: Why is it so controversial when someone says "All Lives Matter" instead of "Black Lives Matter"? by GeekAesthete (2015) Reddit.
- Real Time with Bill Maher: Hashtags vs. Legislation (Aug 21, 2015) YouTube.
- This Is What You Mean When You Say, Tweet Or Sing 'All Lives Matter' by Joshua Ostroff (07/13/2016 05:47am EDT | Updated July 15, 2016) Huffington Post.
- Black Lives Matter: Don't blame movement for Dallas police ambush by Aamer Madhani (Published 3:47 p.m. ET Jul. 8, 2016; Updated 6:13 p.m. ET Jul. 8, 2016) USA Today.
- Chicago torture video: 4 charged with hate crimes, kidnapping by Holly Yan et al. (Updated 9:48 PM EST, Thu January 5, 2017) CNN.
- Statement from ACLU of Wisconsin on Blue Lives Matter Bill (January 10, 2017) ACLU Wisconsin.
- White Lives Matter Southern Poverty Law Center.
- 'Unapologetically white' posters dot Minnesota city by Clairissa Baker (6:22 p.m. ET Jan. 17, 2018) USA Today.