Black Lives Matter: A grassroots campaign that changed the world

Monday, 30 November 2020 - 12:23

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Speaking at the BBC 100 Women Masterclass 2020, a digital live event of masterclasses, the trio behind the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement addressed how the racially charged movement came about to change the course of history.

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, began the BLM movement in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot dead unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman had claimed that the 17-year-old Martin looked suspicious as he returned from a shop after buying sweets and iced tea.

One of the most notable qualities of this grassroots campaign is that, rather than directing the attention to the founders of the movement, most attention is drawn to the victims of racially charged offences.

The movement was pushed to the spotlight nationally once again following the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager who was shot dead by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

However, the BLM movement reached new heights with the killing of George Floyd who died after a police officer knelt on his neck during his arrest in Minneapolis.

The video of Floyd’s killing was shared and circulated among social media which also began a discussion regarding unnecessary use of force by the police.

"Black Lives Matter, after seven years, is now really in the DNA and the muscle memory of this country," Garza stated, "We all have watched how our community members, our family members, are being murdered on camera.

"There are so many ways in which, even as this movement was exploding for the second time, major news outlets continue to focus on the wrong thing.

"Over and over again, the burden and responsibility for the violence get placed at our feet, but nobody talks about the violence that our communities are experiencing both at the hands of government neglect, but also at the hands of police officers.

"Now we have a new element which is vigilante and white supremacist violence."

The trio also discussed regarding #EndSars protests staged in Nigeria against police brutality. The protesters call for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) with the Nigerian Police with a long-standing history of abuse.

"I'm heartened by seeing the ways in which the BLM movement but also a number of other movements have risen to the occasion and have brought forward political thought and action that really reflects the best of who we are," said Opal Tometi, "I think our movements are showing a whole other way is possible and I'm very moved and grateful to be alive for a time such as this."

Addressing the outcome of the US Presidential Election, the movement co-founders remain cautiously hopeful and point out that Black women have been credited as a driving force behind the win secured by President-elect Joe Biden.

"We are transforming politics as we know it but we are very focused on transforming power, the way that it operates, and making sure there is more power in the hands of more people," Garza said.

Acknowledging the election of Kamala Harris, who has made history as the first female, first black, and first Asian-American US Vice President-elect, the group stated that they would lobby for her to be not just a "symbol but a fighter for our communities".