Black Lives Matter Movement
During the summer of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement captured the attention of the nation. However, the term has been used by the Black community for years prior. In the beginning, Black Lives Matter was a mere hashtag being used to draw attention to police brutality and injustices experienced by Black Americans. The first usage of the hashtag was on July 13th, 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Soon, the hashtag would turn into a call to action. In the wake of Martin’s murder and Zimmerman’s acquittal, there were protests across America in over 100 cities. The goal was to draw the attention of the American people and politicians to show that there was a need for change and justice. The movement was led by three black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Martin’s death and the leadership of these women would forever change the Black community.
After attention around Trayvon Martin’s death died down, so did the usage of #BlackLivesMatter. This was until the death of 43-year-old Eric Garner on July 17th, 2014. A bystander filmed Garner gasping for air, proclaiming the words “I can’t breathe” as NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo held him in a chokehold. Those three words would haunt the Black community for years to come. As before, there was an uprising as people protested after a grand jury failed to indict the officer involved in the murder. Since then there has been consistent use of #BlackLivesMatter and protests both small and large combatting injustices in the Black community.
As the movement gained momentum, several celebrities and public figures began to speak out. Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, showed his public support for the movement by kneeling during the national anthem at every game. His actions caused a stir in both the football community and on a political front. Despite Kaepernick’s declaration that he had no intention of disrespecting the American flag, notable people spoke against his actions; notably, former President Donald Trump: "We defend our flag, and we honor our flag. And if others honored our flag, they'd be a lot better off, wouldn't they? We put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance, and we do that proudly. And we stand for the national anthem." Trump also stated that any NFL player that decided to disrespect the flag should be fired. Several athletes such as Martellus Bennett supported Kaepernick and his actions stating “[he] is ok with being fired for what [he believes] in.” Kaepernick was fired by the 49ers in 2016 and blackballed by the NFL causing him to remain unsigned since. Despite these tragic events, he remains an inspiration amongst social activists. Recently both the NFL and NBA have shown their support for both their Black athletes and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Alongside drawing attention to injustice, Black Lives Matter works to highlight talented Black artists, musicians, teachers, and many other groups. In February of 2017 Black Lives Matters held an art exhibition in Virginia. Several platforms grew to showcase the talent and intelligence that Black people possess to display the need to appreciate black lives while they are here, rather than just fighting for them after their deaths. In solidarity with the movement, white actors Mike Henry, Jenny Slate, and Kristen Bell quit their roles voicing Black characters, allowing Black talent to voice them instead.
As the Black Lives Matter movement graced the stage once again in 2020, the world saw a shift within the Black community. In a matter of months, there were protests for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and countless others. The peaceful protests turned to violent riots. Not solely at the hands of Black Lives Matter protesters, but also by conflicts with police and white supremacists. Protests were held in thousands of cities in all 50 states, and even in other countries. Protesters were sprayed with mace, tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and beaten. Despite this, they remained resilient and continued to fight for their rights and for justice to be served.
Since the summer protests, a lot of things have changed. Police departments across the nation have had funds allocated to other important issues. There have been restrictions put on chokeholds used by law enforcement, such as the one used on the late George Floyd. Breonna’s law was passed in Louisville, Kentucky putting a ban on “no-knock” warrants, such as the one that led to Breonna Taylor’s untimely death. Several monuments that highlight Confederates and slave owners have been removed. Schools are developing a more diverse curriculum and ending contracts with local police departments. These changes are a step towards equality and the prevention of wrongful deaths at the hands of the police.
The Black Lives Matter movement also plays a role in supporting several other movements such as #MeToo, the fight for LGBT+ rights, women’s rights, and many other movements. Originally started by three black women, the movement has grown to a global 40-chapter network led by the members. The movement wishes to inspire hope by working with everyday people to fight against injustice and showcase the talent and potential in the Black community. Anyone can be a part of the movement. All they need is the desire to uplift Black people and the willingness to stick around when things get tough.