Africans Americans in the United States have faced racial prejudices due to their dark skin color. Racial discrimination of the ‘black’ population has been common throughout history after abolishment of slavery and declaration that all individuals are equal regardless of race (Hoggard, Jones, & Sellers, 2016). For years, people of color have been treated like inferior human beings who encountered intolerance and inequality. To date, racial biases still exist, and indiscriminate shooting as well as partial justice system of sentencing are evidences of racism (Herzing, Ritchie, Gilmer, & Peters, 2016). Americans who oppose unfair treatment of the blacks have risen to form organizations that fight against racial segregation. The activist organizations such as Black Lives Matter were launched to raise awareness and demand justice for black people all over the world. This paper will discuss the Black Lives Matter group and highlight famous African American campaigners in addition to recent occurrences of racial discrimination.
Black Lives Matter Organization
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a global activist group that campaigns against racism and violence against black citizens. It was formed by three women of color who commented on a post about injustice towards African America’s face. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi facilitated the movement mainly as a response to exoneration of George Zimmerman who had shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. During their interaction via social media, the slogan #BlackLivesMatter was born. Since its inception in online networks in 2013, the organization has staged hundreds of peaceful protests all over the United States and abroad in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
Reasons Behind Formation
The motto #BlackLivesMatter was created in 2013 by three founders who met due to the “Black Organizing for Leadership & Dignity” (BOLD) that is an organization that trains black community initiators. The group was formed after unfair ruling of the Zimmerman case. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch member, claimed that Martin attacked him and shot him in self-defense (Black Lives Matter Movement, 2016). However, evidence suggested that Martin was escaping from a person who was following him. In a call to one of his friends, he mentioned that he had been chased and in a separate 911 phone call, it is said that Martin was heard yelling for help. Zimmerman was not found guilty and was charged with second-degree murder as the jury concluded that shooting was mere self-defense (Herzing et al., 2016). The acquittal of Zimmerman incited protest by the American black community and led to formation of BLM.
The group launched an online campaign on Twitter and Facebook, but; it was not until 2014 that they staged the first national demonstration. BLM members organized the protest dubbed ‘Black Lives Matter Freedom Ride’ in Ferguson, Missouri after the murder of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson. Brown, an 18-year-old black American was shot by Wilson at least six times in the chest despite being unarmed. Over 500 members of BLM attended the peaceful demonstration in Ferguson. The movement got nationwide attention due to their non-violent and well-organized protest.
Black Lives Matter operates without a centralized structure. The founders said that that the movement aimed at providing an online platform for people who are committed to their principles and goals. The leaders also insisted that local coordination and organization of different chapters is better than national coordination. The group currently has over 30 chapters with the majority located in the United States (Black Lives Matter movement, 2016).
Moreover, another movement under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter was established. The organizations such as Movement for Black Lives and Campaign Zero have emerged to respond to increasing violence against black communities. The grouping mostly aims at stopping the use of excessive force against black people and biases of the US justice system. The campaigns mostly focus on legislative solutions that will introduce stricter guidelines against coercion (Ghandnoosh, 2015).
Originating from the popular hashtag activism on Twitter, the group has relied on social media to rally support. The movement has used online networks, media coverage, and active street demonstrations to fight for the rights of African Americans. The #BlackLivesMatter has featured in memes on social network websites such as Twitter and Facebook that raise awareness of black killings (Workneh, 2016). The organization has also held demonstrations and activities, e.g. Die-ins (a form of protest where people lie down and simulate being dead). Some famous musicians namely Beyonce, Jay Z, and Kendrick Lamar have also made music videos that called attention to the murdered teenagers (Workneh, 2016). Furthermore, BLM made a short documentary, Bars4Justice that featured the Pan African Film Festival.
The BLM claimed to draw their inspiration from various movements that fought for the rights of African Americans and recognition of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and queer rights (LGBTQ). The leaders of the BLM mentioned African-American Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Black Power movement, the Black Feminist movement of 1980’s, Pan-Africanism, the LGBTQ social movements, and Occupy Wall Sreet (Black Lives Matter movement, 2016). Some members have also identified activists such as Al Sharpton who distinguished himself from the older generations of black campaigners.
What BLM Advocates
The BLM was founded as a response to killing of black people and injustice in the judicial system. The BLM and other related movements were formed to create awareness of indiscriminate shootings of people from the black community in the United States (Black Lives Matter movement, 2016). The movement has required the change in policies that allow police to resort to coercion and for appropriate measures to be taken against law enforcement officers who that use excessive force. Additionally, BLM demands that the justice system grants people of color fair trials.
Furthermore, the movement is fighting for the fair right of LGBTQ since two of the founding women proclaimed their sexuality as ‘queer.’ The organization seeks to ensure that all individuals get equal treatment at workplace or homes despite their sexual preferences. The leaders have also claimed that they were inspired by feminism and LGBTQ to combat sexism (Black Lives Matter movement, 2016). The group advocates for elimination of violence against black women in general.
Injustice in Justice System
According to statistics, in New York, 80% of the police screening included the blacks (African Americans and Latinos), and 85% of those people were frisked as compared to 8% of the whites who encountered such actions of the officers (Ghandnoosh, 2015). Despite only about 50% of the population are black in New York, they were more likely to be frisked. The Bureau of Justice Statistics declared that African Americans were 2- 10% more often arrested for drug offenses in contrast to the white individuals (Ghandnoosh, 2015).
Once detained, the accused of color is more likely to spend more time waiting for a trial than the white counterpart. Only about 5% are engaged in litigation because most opt for plea bargains to reduce their sentence despite some of them being innocent. 40% of those who stand trial tend to be found guilty unlike white citizens who committed similar offenses (Ghandnoosh, 2015). In 2009, the Sentencing Project discovered that two-thirds of convicted for life terms were not white; hence, it contradicts the constitutional rights of the minority population in the United States. In New York, the percentage was 83. African Americans and dark-skinned Latinos make 56% of the incarcerated, notwithstanding, they compose only 30% of the total amount American residents (Ghandnoosh, 2015). The abovementioned statistics clearly indicates that the US justice society is biased against African-Americans and other people of color.
According to statistics, unarmed black people are five times more likely to be shot by the police as compared to the whites (MacDonald, 2016). Last year, over 100 weaponless African Americans were killed by law enforcement officers. The data indicate that nearly one in every three black individuals murdered by the officials were unarmed. In all these instances of police shootings last year, only 10 of 102 of cases involved charges with a crime. In only two of 10 cases, the police officers were convicted. Law enforcers are more likely to avoid any charges due to the biases of the justice system.
Success of the Movement
The movement has been successful just after its founding. It has raised awareness of racial discrimination that exists in the United States and other parts of the world (Workneh, 2016). The activists changed the society by creating a platform for black people around the globe. The leaders were able to meet with Democratic Party presidential nominees Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. The campaigners met with the presidential candidates and advocated for racial equality and fairness in the criminal justice system. The campaign dubbed #SayHerName enhanced realization of police violence against black women. The struggle began after the death of Sandra Bland who died in the police custody under mysterious conditions.
Protests in educational institutions such as the University of Missouri forced the administrations of many academic establishments internationally to discuss racial matters. In the University of Missouri, the student union president was forced to step down after black students in the campus expressed opposition to racism. In Georgetown, the university board renamed buildings that honored slave owners (Workneh, 2016). The movement also protested against the Confederate flag that is a symbol of white supremacy and racism. The flag was successfully removed in different public spaces all over the United States.
In addition, students of the University of California were able to stop the administration from investing 30 million dollars in the state prison system that discriminates the blacks (Workneh, 2016). The undergraduates managed to impede financing private prisons as the universities would be turning black individuals to profit making tools. Furthermore, BLM honored Sandra Bland by having the street where she was stopped by the police named after her. Zero Campaign that advocates for the end of violence of law enforcement agencies was initiated by the BLM (Workneh, 2016). It demanded from the government to reform the police regulations to eliminate using force on unarmed citizens and reduce biases against people of color.
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Notable Black Activists
The Black Lives Matter’s founders and other black activists were inspired mostly by the notable group of people who fought for equality in the 20th century. Therefore, these remarkable individuals are Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parker, and Reverend Jessi Jackson who were part of the movements such as the America Civil Rights Movement, Black Power and Rainbow/PUSH (Behnken et al., 2016). The group has also claimed to have been inspired to fight white supremacy and racism like leaders of the Pan-African Movements did. The organization advocated for the unity of Africans for social, political and economic progress to improve their status. The outstanding leaders who participated in this movement were Haile Selassie, Julius Nyerere, and Kwame Nkrumah as well as Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey from the diaspora.
The recent campaign of the LGBTQ that covered all the United States has encouraged other women who face sexism to fight for their rights. Moreover, females have openly created awareness of violence that they face because of sexism, as black women encounter cruelty of the police (Taylor, 2016). The Black Feminism movement is the oldest of the campaigns against sexism. All the previous ones have motivated youth across the globe to rise and defend the rights of black people.
Use of Social Media
#BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, #BlackWomenMatter and other hashtag activism slogans have been used to foster awareness of racial and sexual discrimination, which African Americans face (Workneh, 2016). Since its inception, the Black Lives Matter has used social media to promote their activities. The group created a platform for the black population to express themselves. Expression by the black community has led to creation of memes and videos such as the one-minute Mannequin challenge on Twitter that shows how people of color experience violence from the police (KB, 2016). In the video, they recreate different popular scenes of the shooting of unarmed African Americans. The use of online networks has allowed the movement to create nationwide consciousness especially with the active participation and support of popular musicians namely Pharrell Williams, Jay-Z, and T.I.
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Black activists and other anti-Trump groups have openly rejected Donald Trump’s succession as the President. The group offered a statement to the press saying that they would actively riot in the streets to protect their economic, social and political power (Carissimo, 2016). The movement also expressed the need for inclusivity and justice for all people not just black ones and the end of white supremacy. Different organizations in the USA have publicly refused to acknowledge Trump as the President due to his camping policies that involved arresting and deportation of all immigrants, the blacks, Latinos and Muslims (Carissimo, 2016). Black Lives Matters has staged protests across the entire country advocating for racial equality.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been one of the most successful activist groups opposing racial discrimination. The group has protested against killing of unarmed black individuals and injustice of the justice system that is biased against people of color. Moreover, the organization has created awareness that not only black males face police violence but women are suffering as well. Black killings triggered formation of the establishment. The group has widely used social media especially ‘hashtag’ slogans to develop global consciousness and rally the citizens to protest in the streets for their right to equality.