Posted: November 8th, 2023
Black Lives Matter Movement
Scholars, leaders, and policymakers all agree that the United States is experiencing a new Black civil and human rights movement wave. What started as a simple hashtag in 2013 would grow to define a generation. For over eight years, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has become an institution with a framework that alters how the United States discusses race. Millions of people are pushing the hashtag to cause public awareness and mandate changes in the criminal justice system. The demands of BLM activists have led to police officers resigning, confederate statues falling and city councils passing overdue policy reforms. The BLM movement highlights the role social media plays in contemporary activism. The online platforms represent public spaces where observers negotiate sociocultural meaning surrounding the movement and its claims. While the sociopolitical power behind the BLM movement might appear to have faded, BLM still means the start of difficult conversations centred on institutional racism for most people.
The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013 following the release of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is an international organization with bases in the U.K, U.S. and Canada, whose goal is to eliminate white supremacy and empower local communities to remedy the violence inflicted on minorities by state agencies (BLM n.d.). Three pioneer female organizers, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Torneti and Alicia Garza, created the Black centred movement, beginning with a simple hashtag on Twitter. The hashtag started when the criminal court acquitted George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon. The movement became widely known following two high-profile deaths in 2014 and 2020. At its core, BLM seeks justice for law enforcement’s unarmed killing of African American men and boys. By countering state violence, BLM creates spaces for Black innovation and imagination.
The BLM movement has been effective in creating social awareness regarding state violence against African Americans. The brutal police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in 2020 released a historic surge of activism across the United States. A Yale study found that over 5000 young individuals aged 11-15 engaged in the movement through social media, television and in-person demonstrations (Jones 94). Unlike other movements, BLM did not seek immediate policy changes. Instead, it sought to empower people at the bottom, building rapport in local communities to generate public sentiment that supports the cause. The key to the movement’s success was its ability to keep people engaged and inspired (Jones 94). BLM was built on local leaders motivating each other to lead their respective communities. The approach generated sufficient local awareness to force social and political changes. The local developments motivate community members to address the injustices they encounter or witness in their daily lives.
The cultural impact of the BLM movement cannot be denied as it brought substantial positive changes in the material lives of African Americans. Since its inception, over thirty BLM chapters have emerged across North America (Adama 1). The Los Angeles charter was successful in its fight for the termination of Police Chief Charlie Beck. In Chicago, the charter successfully advocated for the closing of the Horman Square detention facility (Adama 1). Over the years, the BLM movement has initiated several city-specific demands. Despite some policy failures, the movement has been able to shift national discussions regarding policing to publicized acts of state violence. Since 2014, the BLM hashtag has been shared over a hundred million times, according to a report by Kivvit (Adama 1). Over 60 top 500 fortune companies posted the hashtag, showing the scale and power of the movement.
The BLM movement has been effective in causing institutional changes geared at eradicating structural racism. While most BLM protests target law enforcement, there have been other noticeable changes in high-profile government positions (Roberts 1). For instance, Chicago residents ousted Anita Alvarez from the public prosecutor’s office following her failure to charge police officers responsible for shooting at least sixty-eight people to death. The same approach was used in Los Angeles when Angela Corey failed to convict Trayvon Martin’s killer (Roberts 1). Additional reports of BLM led resignations in the University of Missouri and Jackson, Mississippi equally indicate the movement’s success. As seen through the various changes in public office, BLM’s unrelenting work is challenging white supremacy by focusing on institutional racism. The effort has become expansive, reaching congress. A noticeable example is a congressional call by Democrats to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The ICE debate would not have been possible were it not for the efforts of the BLM movement.
Police brutality and other forms of state violence against African Americans is not a new topic in America. However, the recent shootings of unarmed young Black men have reinvented the topic, creating a novel form of civil protests. BLM exists in the contemporary socio-political context, leveraging information communication technologies and social media to enact social changes. While questions remain regarding the movement’s sustainability, its impact since its emergence is undeniable. BLM’s bottom-up approach for engaging locals outlines the importance of local support and engagement in the civil and human rights movement. When people make a cause their own, it becomes more effective and long-term. The success of the BLM movement should not cause society to refrain from highlighting the issues Black people and other minority communities experience. The eradication of racism in society mandates continuous engagement in difficult conversations.
Adama, Char. A Movement, a Slogan, A Rallying Cry: How Black Lives Matter Changed America’s View on Race. NBCNews, 29 December 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/movement-slogan-rallying-cry-how-black-lives-matter-changed-america-n1252434, Accessed 14 March 2022.
I used the online article to explore the sociocultural impact of the BLM movement. The article offers information on the various changes in legislation and public office associated with the movement.
Black Lives Matter. About Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter, https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/, Accessed 14 March 2022.
The official BLM website provides first-hand information concerning the purpose, vision and mission of the movement. I used the article to gain a general understanding of the movement’s activities.
Jones, Leslie Kay. “#BlackLivesMatter: An Analysis of the Movement as Social Drama.” Humanity & Society, vol. 44, no. 1, Feb. 2020, pp. 92–110, doi:10.1177/0160597619832049.
The article explores how the BLM movement was created, how it functions and why it has been successful. Unlike the other sources, the article focuses on the operational strategies of the movement, highlighting its wins and failures.
Roberts, Frank. How Black Lives Matter Changed How Americans Fight for Freedom. ACLU, 13 July 2018, https://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/race-and-criminal-justice/how-black-lives-matter-changed-way-americans-fight, Accessed 14 March 2022.
The article looks at the cultural changes associated with the BLM movement. The author looks at the changes and places them within a wider historical context to indicate why BLM has been successful compared to other civil movements.
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