2020 has not held back in dishing out one hardship after the other. Each new struggle tested us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Especially in predominantly Black and Hispanic communities, Coronavirus has been devastating. When George Floyd was murdered at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in late May, it caused pain so fierce that not only the United States erupted in an uproar, but the world was livid at the unjust killing of an innocent man. Already weary from the destitution wrought by COVID-19, the response to Floyd’s murder was astounding, with the Black Lives Matter movement gaining unprecedented traction, unapologetically demanding a safer and more equitable world for Black people.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) was started in 2013 by activist Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors. First originating as a hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, the movement formed in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, who gunned Martin down after racially profiling him in February of 2012.
Similar to the black power movements of the ’60s, such as the Civil Rights Movement, BLM has been described as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise” (blacklivesmatter.com). BLM has grown significantly into a global movement with the common aim of fighting against racial injustice and state-sanctioned violence. As BLM strongly promotes the protection of black life, many have misinterpreted the message to mean that only black lives matter. This misconception has spawned the counterstatement ‘All Lives Matter,’ which was created to undermine BLM and frame it as a hateful movement. This, of course, is not true. Black Lives Matter is “a movement for equality and against racism,” as stated by Ged Grebby, chief executive of the England-based charity Show Racism the Red Card. BLM means black people are equal to white people, who are the main benefactors of our society. The same quality of education, health care, employment, housing, justice, and protection should be afforded to black folks who, systemically, lack the same ease of access to these things or simply do not have access at all. Of course, all lives do matter, but as of right now, black lives are in a dangerous position because they are the targets for racial violence at increasingly alarming rates.
In response to the murders of innocent black lives, BLM peacefully protests and proactively makes calls to action to rebuild our societal systems, which are predicated on racism. BLM has been responding to injustices since 2013. However, there has been a slight decline in activity and media attention in the late 2010s.
In late February of this year, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by two white men while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. The murderers suspected Arbery was behind a string of break-ins in their neighborhood, prompting them to take unwarranted action in killing him, an unarmed black man. The outrage around Arbery’s death began the resurgence of BLM. Not even a full month later, in March, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was murdered in her Louisville apartment when police forced entry in investigating drug operations. They shot recklessly into the apartment after Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, a licensed gun carrier, fired a warning shot, suspecting the police to be home invaders. Taylor was killed in the spray of bullets. The fallout around Taylor’s murder was not widely broadcast at the time. It wasn’t until George Floyd’s tragic murder that her case, along with countless others, held up in the powerful surge of protests demanding justice for their lives and their families. The nature of Floyd’s murder, the brutality of an unrelenting knee crushing his neck, was the tipping point for black people and a horrific wake-up call for everyone else.
This resurgence has generated protests in all 50 states (which was unprecedented) and worldwide. Companies such as McDonald’s, Ben and Jerry’s and Uber, have made statements condemning white supremacy and have publicly pledged donations to BLM and other initiatives that fight systemic racism. Major cable networks have also claimed their solidarity. For instance, Nickelodeon went off the air to broadcast a commercial in which the words ‘I can’t breathe’ pulse against a black backdrop for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time Floyd was suffocated. One of the most important calls to action that has resulted from this powerful wave is to defund the police. This demands that the money allotted to law enforcement, which is excessive, be redistributed to community programs that are lacking funding. It also demands that the police are demilitarized.
At this critical time, so many have come out in droves to stand up to racism and white supremacy. The overwhelming response from folks in the midst of a pandemic is a testament to humanity. 2020 has been a challenging and stressful year. It has also been a year of paradigms beginning to shift. Though it is happening in ways we’d rather not endure, BLM’s resurgence is a signal that serious, concrete change is about to take place.