There were only three words written on posters set in the gardens of houses scattered throughout the United States, painted in giant yellow letters on a street next to the White House.
In press headlines around the world, in store windows, in advertisements for major brands, in profile pictures on the social networks of ordinary citizens and famous personalities in sports, culture and politics. Black Lives Matter (BLM). A three-word sentence that catalyzes what many scholars agree to qualify as the largest protest movement in American history.
I can’t breathe
George Floyd died while he was pinned down for almost nine minutes by white police officer, Derek Chauvin. Eyewitnesses say George kept struggling for breath as he cried “I can’t breathe” until he became unconscious. Since the death of George Floyd, on May 25, there have been at least 7,750 demonstrations associated with the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2,000 locations in 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to a University of Columbia count.
The movement had gained global solidarity in other parts of the world, cutting across different continents, tribes, race and religions.
“In intensity and geographic reach, it is the broadest protest movement in the history of the United States,” says Neal Caren, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, an expert on contemporary social movements in the United States. “Never before have there been so many protests, for so long and in so many different communities.”
Indeed, one of the many enlightenment from the movement was that; it wasn’t the first and may not be the last, as concrete punishments were hardly placed on incriminated policemen in the past. Reports have it that Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin, had earlier been reported for similar offences in the past with no strong consequences given.
The global response to racism
The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was shared over 100 million times in the month after George Floyd was killed, according to a reports. The protests pushed promoted the movement against racial discrimination and violence even further.
Companies, Universities, Sport teams and athletes, Religious groups and many other organizations pledged their support for the movement from across the world. Technology made the worldwide enlightenment even better as supporters leveraged on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the likes to lend their voices.
While the movement awakened the global community to the ongoing brutality of black in the United States, it also placed under the spotlight, the ongoing activities of Police Brutality in different countries.
Historical Origin of BLM
It is difficult to establish the extent to which each of these protests was influenced by the Black Lives Matter, which emerged seven years ago as a minority protest movement against police brutality towards the black population. But it is equally difficult to deny that he provided a motto, a guide, a communication channel and a framework for attracting new activists. “There is no membership card, it looks more like a slogan,” explains Pamela Oliver, professor-emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, who specializes in collective action and social movements. “There is a wide range of people who protest and an organization that tries to control your brand. At least since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, we have talked about complex and decentralized social protests, and now there are even multiple local organizations in the same city.”
Outcome of the movement
Without a hierarchy, without a manifesto and without a clear structure, the BLM has become a powerful instrument for change and a fundamental voice on racial issues in the United States. After Floyd’s death, there was an unprecedented wave of donations to collectives fighting for racial justice, which redesigned the map of activism in a matter of weeks. ActBlue, the leading platform for online donations for progressive causes, recorded its most active period in June, above the highest peaks of recent presidential primaries.
The Black Lives Matter Global Network foundation created a $ 6.5 million (34.5 million reais) fund at the disposal of local affiliated organizations to fund its grassroots work.
“It has become a social movement brand that people can relate to,” says Caren. “We talk about a lot of local people socializing what they have through organizations that existed, but are renewed, new ones, or simple calls on social networks. There is no central committee. This flexibility allows it to adapt to the needs of each community. They demonstrated that they are good at drawing attention to topics. Also, in many cities, they have achieved remarkable changes in concrete policies, putting pressure on local politicians, and it is rare for a movement to achieve this so quickly.”
Trayvon Martin’s shooting
BLM was born in 2013, just as a hashtag, after civilian neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was cleared of the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin in February 2012 in Florida. It was conceived by three black women, Alicia Garza (Los Angeles, 1981), Patrisse Cullors (Los Angeles, 1984) and Opal Tometi (Phoenix, Arizona, 1984) as “a global network run by its members” that represents “an ideological intervention and politics in a world where black lives are systematically and purposefully marked to die.”
In 2014, the movement began to have national relevance in protests over the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson (Missouri) at the hands of the police.
The violent crackdown on Ferguson’s protests mobilized a new generation of activists. It also increased media sensitivity to the systematic death of blacks by the police. In 2016, the BLM had more than 30 national sections. The movement did not come out of nowhere, it connects to the past.
Police and the treatment of Black Americans
Under the influence of the BLM, there was a significant evolution in public opinion. According to a June survey by The Washington Post, 69% of Americans believe that Floyd’s death reflects a broader problem of and how the police treat blacks, compared to 29% who believe it is an isolated incident.
In 2014, 51% believed that police deaths of African Americans were isolated incidents. At the end of June, according to the Civis Analytics study, 62% of Americans expressed support for the BLM – 47% of those who voted for Trump in 2016.
The recent violent episodes in Kenosha (Wisconsin) and Portland (Oregon) and President Trump’s commitment to talking about “chaos” and “domestic terrorism”, which brought protests to the center of the campaign for the November presidential election, are new challenges for the movement.
There were no major polls after the Jacob Blake shooting attack in Kenosha, but polls indicate that the spikes in support of the BLM recorded after Floyd’s death are receding. In addition, keeping the flame alive becomes more difficult when it is time to step down to concrete policies.
According to Mapping Police Violence, at least 1,066 people have been killed by police in 2020. Over 28 percent of those killed were Black. It should be noted that African Americans make up only 13 percent of the US population.
Reportedly, the police also responded to the protesting and police brutality documenting with more police brutality. With thousands arrested and many injured during the movement, Black communities are still reeling from the evergreen reality, yearning for acceptance and safety from those who should protect them especially off cameras.
How viable are these yearns?