Black Lives Matter refers to a movement rather than an organization which began in the United States and rapidly became prominent due to the hashtag and viral social media posts. The national rise in the movement stemmed from the acquittal of the murderer of Trayvon Martin in 2013 (Leach & Allen, 2017). The alleged murderer of Trayvon Martin, who was just a teenager when he was shot and killed, George Zimmerman was white (Leach & Allen, 2017). African Americans felt that the acquittal represented a double standard of criminal justice, where violence against black Americans went unpunished while black Americans were incarcerated indiscriminately for lesser crimes (Leach & Allen, 2017).
As a movement, Black Lives Matter builds on a previous history of civil rights movements to support black Americans that go back to at least the reform efforts of abolition advocates in the 1850s which precipitated the American Civil War. Abolition refers to the prohibition of slavery, and transition of persons of slave status to free people. Many Americans, regardless of ancestry, supported the cause because of continuing tensions between black Americans and the justice system. In the following years there were many incidents of police violence which were in some cases captured live or videotaped and shared on social media. Public reaction to many of these incidents was protest, including violent clashes in Ferguson and New York City that resulted in wounded and dead.
Because the Black Lives Matter movement has no authority or leadership, the actions of that are associated with it can seem fragmented. There are a variety of criticisms from all sides. For example, there is criticism that the movement is increasing social disorder. Another criticism comes from race equality advocates, who note that the campaign highlights disparities between black Americans and black Africans, in that the former matter, but the continued struggle for survival of Africans in developing contexts is not recognized as equally important (Strong, 2017). People who are associated with the movement are acting individually to voice their opposition to the continued oppression and structural discrimination against black Americans, including violence by the state through its police forces. The relationship of Black Lives Matter to the police forces is a contentious issue, and one that drives the political aspects of the criticism of the movement. Support for the movement was interpreted by some to be a stand against the police, as the police are implicated in the structural violence against black Americans. Blue Lives Matter was a spinoff movement which sought to support a more civil society by showing support for police while making the linkage through the use of the term to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Black Lives Matter is a movement, not an organization, and it is interpreted by the individuals and organizations that voice their support for the movement as well as its detractors. The continued structural discrimination towards black Americans is clear through statistical analysis of disparities in health and access to health care, education, incomes, criminal prosecution, incarceration rates and the rates of violent death due to interaction with the police (Jee-Lyn García & Sharif, 2015). Further villainizing society should not, however, be the answer.
Black Lives Matter helps to draw attention to, and create awareness, of disparities that impact social equality. The real solution is a reconciliation of interests that results in increased understanding of the different ethnic and cultural groups in America and in the world. Reconciliation, however requires real equality in outcomes, opportunities and in a feeling of safety from the state, for both black Americans and the police forces that are meant to serve and protect them.
- Jee-Lyn García, J., & Sharif, M. Z. (2015). Black lives matter: a commentary on racism and public health. American journal of public health, 105(8), e27-e30.
- Leach, C. W., & Allen, A. M. (2017). The Social Psychology of the Black Lives Matter Meme and Movement. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(6), 543-547.
- Strong, K. (2017). Do African Lives Matter to Black Lives Matter? Youth Uprisings and the Borders of Solidarity. Urban Education 53(2), 265-285.