What is it?
The phrase that has been used across the world this year has been familiar to some since 2013. After the acquittal of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s killer seven years ago in the USA, many took to social media using the hashtag BlackLivesMatter. George Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, argued that he acted in self-defence and was found not guilty. The phrase sought to highlight the devaluation of Black life by the judicial system, with it viewing the protection of a white person’s life as a justification for taking the life of a Black person. As more Black Americans such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner became victims of killing by white police officers, the phrase continued to be used across America.
Seven Years later
Black Lives Matter did build momentum in America after its initial use. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi - who first used the phrase in 2013 – used their call to action to develop a national movement under the same name. However, it was the death of George Floyd that saw the exponential growth of the phrase, and of the movement itself. Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Furthermore, this devastating event was filmed by witnesses on their smartphones for the whole world to see. This provided some with the clearest visual of Black lives being deemed less valuable than white ones.
Amidst a global pandemic, the whole world was at home and able to watch the state resist arresting the police officers involved in Floyd’s death. Protestors took to the streets in all 50 states, with many met by police or the army, tear gas and rubber bullets. The movement spread across the globe, not only empowering those in America in their pursuit of justice but allowing for Black people across the world to call out similar discrimination in their own country. From London to Sydney, many defied COVID-19 restrictions on mass gatherings to demand attention be paid to fight against racism, which saw itself presented as a second pandemic faced by Black people.
Why just Black lives?
The movement has received significant amounts of backlash. Apart from resistance from the police and justice systems, it has most notably has been met with the counter slogan: All Lives Matter, and at times: White Lives Matter. Others have argued that the movement creates divisions amongst all ethnic minorities in the fight for racial equality. Advocates of Black Lives Matter assert that with racism still rife, permeating all elements of society, all lives are not deemed to be equal whilst Black lives are constantly under threat. To many, the movement’s purpose is to draw attention to the solely unique oppression of Black people and the crisis they face daily, not to minimise the significance of other races as its opponents have suggested.
The future of the movement
Activism brought about by George Floyd’s death drew comparison to the civil rights era in the 1960s. To many of our generation, this is the first wide scale protest within our lifetimes and bears signs of change. Frank conversation about race, privilege and how we can progress are happening. However, these may just remain signs of hope with no change. With still no justice for those such as Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and countless others, there are concerns that the momentum cannot be sustained and the moment may be lost to time. The shooting of Jacob Blake in August - whilst all eyes are already on how police treat Black Americans - suggests that police still feel untouchable. Whilst President Trump deploys the military to tackle protestors, the battle for equality and justice continues.
Image - Unsplash