“Black Lives Matter” – it’s a hashtag, a popular t-shirt slogan, a popular mantra for people protesting police violence against African Americans and it’s a racial justice movement.
Black Lives Matter turns three-years-old this summer. In the summer of 2013, after George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the movement began with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The movement was co-founded by three Black community organizers: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal TomeIt.
The three-women insist that the movement remain loosely organized. Instead of stepping up as leaders of the movement, they call the movement “leaderfull” composed of many local organizations and leaders who step up in their communities.
“The convenient narrative has been for people, for the media to say, ‘Well, this was organized by Black Lives Matter’,” said Tezlyn Figaro, a publicist for Next Generation Action Network, the group that organized the Dallas event. The rally “had no affiliation with Black Lives Matter.”
The confusion flows in part from the decentralized structure of the Black Lives Matter organization and its founders’ desire that it remain open and inclusive.
“Not everyone who shows up at a demonstration is a full-fledged member of BLM, (but) they’re welcomed and encouraged to participate,” Melina Abdullah, a representative of the group’s Los Angeles chapter, said in a conversation with Reuters in June.
So, a Black Lives Matter March like the one held in Wichita, is more accurately a group of people marching in support of the concepts supported by the Black Lives Movement. While there are a few organizations officially associated with “Black Lives Matters,” more than a formal organization, Black Lives Matters is a movement.
“We can’t affect national narrative, we can’t affect national legislation that comes down and affects local people if local people don’t push back and take a stand about what’s happening in local communities,” said Chelsea Fuller of the Advancement Project, a California-based nonprofit that works with grassroots justice and race movements.
What is the movement about?
The most important directive of Black Lives Matter, founder Cullors told USA Today, is to deal with anti-Black racism, to “push for Black people’s right to live with dignity and respect” and be included in the American democracy that they helped create.
“This is about the quality of life for Black people, for poor people in this country,” said Umi Selah, co-director of Dream Defenders in Miami. Though not officially affiliated, Dream Defenders and similar social justice groups often align themselves with Black Lives Matter.
“The conception that all we’re mad about is police and policing is a strong misconception,” Selah said.
“We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity,” writes BLM organizers on their web page.
However the overwhelming focus of the organization during its first three years has been around the issue of police brutality. It isn’t just about the killing of Blacks at the hands of police although the video tapping of many high profile cases has helped build the organizations case. The movement is equally concerned about the unfair treatment and brutality of African-Americans at the hand of police officers. It’s also about the lack of consequence when Black lives are taken at the hands of police.