Photo Essay - Black Lives Matter
(L-R) Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, are interviewed by Mia Birdsong (not shown) at TEDWomen 2016 (Flickr.com)
Black Lives Matter is an American social movement first organized by Alicia Garza, Patrisse McCullors, and Opal Tometi in response to the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman, who lived in the same planned housing community as Martin, shot and killed the 17-year-old. Zimmerman claimed that Martin threatened him. But Martin was unarmed during the incident, and the contents he had with him—a can of iced tea and a bag of candy—became a symbol for this incident in later protest. Activists were particularly concerned about the handling of Martin's death by local authorities, including delays in identifying Martin's body and notifying his parents, the investigation of the case and determination of criminal charges in the case, and the eventual acquittal of Zimmerman of second-degree murder on July 13, 2013. Black Lives Matter, as a slogan, was used on social media platforms, especially Twitter to discuss an array of issues, especially state violence against black people. Black Lives Matter groups are committed to local, national, and international efforts, and the movement is guided by the principles of participatory democracy theory and intersectional feminism, while rejecting a top-down or centralized leadership structure. Garza has described the movement as "an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks' contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
Local police forces patrol Ferguson, Missouri in response to protests organized by the Black Lives Matter movement (Flickr.com)
Black Lives Matter reached greater visibility when it became an integral organizing force behind the response to the 2014 death of Michael Brown, a teenager who was killed by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department. On August 9, Wilson confronted Brown as he and a friend walked in the vicinity of his neighborhood, approximately ten miles from St. Louis. After Brown was shot and killed by Wilson, observers reported that Brown's body remained unattended to for hours. His death and the treatment of his corpse ignited mass protests and unrest in the town. Protesters regularly gathered on Florissant Avenue, Ferguson's main commercial strip, where police, civilians, and media converged. During the protests, local police forces were uniformed in military-style protective gear equipment and used tear gas, tanks, and assault weapons to disperse the crowd. Critics of the police response noted that small police departments had access to surplus military vehicles and accessories through the Pentagon's 1033 program. In response to the public outcry over the use of this equipment, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13688, Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition on January 16, 2015, which limited this practice by banning certain equipment from the program and restricting the use of others. President Donald Trump reversed this move when he issued Executive Order 13809, Restoring State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement's Access to Life-Saving Equipment and Resources on August 28, 2017.
End the Madness / Sea of Blue D.C. assemblance rally in support of law enforcement officers at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C. on January 17th 2015 (Flickr.com)
Opposition to Black Lives Matter has stemmed from a number of groups and institutions, which have accused the movement of being anti-law enforcement, while at the same time criticizing the movement's explicit focus on black lives. Since 2012, anti-Black Lives Matter positions have surfaced in slogans such as "All Lives Matter," and "Blue Lives Matter." "Blue Lives Matter" has become shorthand for pro-police perspectives, and the notion of "blue lives," has influenced an array of legislation that reduces police accountability in civilian deaths, restricts protest activity, and criminalizes behavior that is deemed contrary to law enforcement. Counter protests against Black Lives Matter actions often include signs that use the phrase Lives Matter in forms to challenge or disparage Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter movement members have been falsely accused of inciting police violence. When Micah Xavier Johnson killed five police officers and injured nine others, some media outlets reported that Johnson was a Black Lives Matter Activist. After the deaths, Texas Lieutenant Governor also misrepresented Johnson as associated with Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter issued a statement after the deaths clarifying their commitment to nonviolent protest and asserted: "#BlackLivesMatter advocates dignity, justice and freedom. Not murder." Some of the victims' families filed lawsuits against individual BLM activists, including DeRay McKesson. The claims were later dismissed in court.
Activists protest the 2016 presidential election candidates and question their stances on issues important to the Black Lives Matter movement (Flickr.com)
Black Lives Matter activists staged protests and issued challenges to candidates seeking the presidency in 2016. Activists disrupted campaign events and forums to ask candidates their position on issues critical to the movement, including police brutality, the rights of transgender people, education, and poverty. Candidate Bernie Sanders later employed Simone Sanders (no relation), a Black Lives Matter activist, as his press secretary. On February 24, 2016, a pair of Black Lives Matter activists confronted Hillary Clinton on her use of the word "superpredators," in a speech about juvenile justice in 1996. Clinton apologized for using the highly racialized term, but she continued to receive criticism from members of the movement. Some public faces of the Black Lives Matter movement chose not to endorse any political candidate. Others elected to support Hillary Clinton in the final months leading up to the 2016 election, including Brittany Packnett, a Teach for America Executive and appointee to Missouri's Ferguson Commission. A group that called themselves Mothers of the Movement—mothers of black men and women killed by police—endorsed Clinton's candidacy. Black Lives Matter protesters were present at rallies helped by Donald Trump's campaign, and they were met with insults and physical threats. At the inauguration of Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter activists obstructed entry onto the spectator section of the event.
This mural at Mount and Presbury streets features the face of Freddie Gray (Flickr.com)
Black Lives Matter has inspired the arts, and depictions of protests, leaders, and victims of police violence have appeared on film, in fiction and non-fiction writing, and visual culture. The expression has been captured on clothing, flags, and in various protest signs. At large demonstrations, protesters have carried placards with drawings and paintings as memorials, and makeshift markers have been erected to commemorate where victims have died. The aesthetic contributions of Black Lives Matter can be found in various murals across the world, and these pieces sometimes depict victims of police shootings, along with images of struggle and characterizations of the liberated future. Angie Thomas's 2017 young adult fiction book The Hate U Give, was a best-selling, Black Lives Matter-themed book. Rapper Kendrick Lamar's 2015 song, "Alright," is considered an "unofficial" anthem of the movement, as protestors often sang the song during gatherings.
Vision For Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, and Justice (Flickr.com)
On August 1, 2016, Black Lives Matter activists published "Vision For Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, and Justice," a set of issues comprising the platform, goals, and top priorities of the movement. The policy positions debuted days after the close of the Democratic National Convention. The ideas reflected a collaboration of more than 50 organizations interested in the amelioration of conditions of black people. The platform's broad categories are: End the War on Black People, Reparations, Invest-Divest, Economic Justice, Community Control, and Political Power. Among the policy ideas that emanated from "Vision for Black Lives" including the demilitarization of the police, reparations for slavery, and the end to the privatization of public schools.
The Anti-Racism rally at London's Trafalgar Square on March 19th 2016 (Flickr.com)
Black Lives Matter is committed to increasing awareness of gender-based violence against black women and girls, transgendered people, and gender non-conforming individuals. Black Lives Matter-inspired campaigns, in conjunction with Black Lives Matter like #SayHerName, have mounted marches, educational initiatives, and convenings to discuss the intersection of gender and violence. Black Lives Matter organizing contributed to efforts on behalf of Marissa Alexander, a survivor of domestic violence who received a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years for firing a warning shot from a gun after her husband attacked her in 2012. Activists also responded to the case of CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman from Minneapolis who was sentenced for 41 months in prison for defending herself and friends during an assault in 2012. In July 2015, the death of Sandra Bland while in a Waller County, Texas jail raised concerns of police brutality or misconduct, and the Say Her Name slogan was used to bring attention to her death and the questions surrounding it. In December 2015, some Black Lives Matter activists appeared in court to support the victims of Officer Daniel Holtzclaw, a police officer in Oklahoma City found guilty of sexually assaulting African American women during traffic stops.
Black Lives Matter activists protest police brutality in response to the death of Baltimore citizen Freddie Gray (Flickr.com)
Starting on April 12, 2015, Black Lives Matter protests were staged outside of a Baltimore public housing complex in response to the death of Freddie Gray. Police claimed that Gray injured himself in the back of a police transport vehicle, but Gray's injuries—including a broken spinal cord—led the state's attorney to criminally charge the six officers involved in Gray's arrest and transport. Soon after news of Gray's death became public, an uprising began in the city, leading Governor Larry Hogan to issue a curfew and summon the National Guard to the city. The officers were later found not guilty, though some faced dismissals or penalties from the Baltimore Police Department. Gray's death highlighted not only the issue of police misconduct, but also the general problems to poverty, including lead poisoning and economic opportunities.
Boycotting capitalism with a focus on people of color, such as Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, being targeted by police (Flickr.com)
Dubbed the "father of Jamaican painting," Albert Huie was one of Jamaica's first professional artists and one of the island's most successful and popular painters. DCALAB author Claudia Hucke notes that Huie was strongly influenced by anti-colonial movements, especially cultural nationalism. Along the lines of cultural nationalism, Huie was one of the first Jamaican artists to include black subjects as key characters in his paintings. Up until then, portraits had been mainly reserved for the white elite of the island." Over the course of his career, Huie's interests included portraits (especially of black subjects), nudes (with special attention to the variety of skin tones among black subjects), landscapes, and genre pieces featuring scenes from working-class life. Some of his most famous works include The Vendor (which can be seen on Jamaican postage stamps), The Counting Lesson (exhibited at the 1939 World's Fair in New York), and Miss Mahogany (which was controversial due to its depiction of a beauty pageant contestant in the nude). Huie was trained in Jamaica, Canada, and England and lived and worked in the U.S., Canada, and Jamaica.
Black Lives Matter protest have taken many forms. (pixabay.com)
Black Lives Matter protests have taken many forms, including mass marches and economic boycotts. Black Lives Matter protesters have also blocked highways and bridges in cities including St. Paul, San Francisco, Atlanta, and St. Louis. Groups have also organized "die-ins," in which protesters lie still on the ground for a designated time to memorialize the dead and illustrate the concern about safety. Creative tactics of the movement have involved using Christmas lights to illuminate the names of victims of police violence, hanging banners and placards from buildings, and in St. Louis, a group unfurled a banner depicting Michael Brown at the St. Louis Opera, while protesters sang an aria to the teenager. A number of organizations adopted the "for Black Lives" language to indicate their professions or organizations solidarity with the movement, including Law for Black Lives, White Coats for Black Lives, and Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective.