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'Black Lives Matter': A Movement That Defies Definition

"Black Lives Matter" has become a mantra for people protesting police violence against African Americans.

It's a hash tag, a popular t-shirt slogan and a movement that is loosely organized - by design.

World | Sat Jul 9, 2016 12:29am EDT
Related: U.S., Africa

'Black Lives Matter': a movement that defies definition
WASHINGTON | By Peter Eisler and Alana Wise

A demonstrator with Black Lives Matter holds up a sign during a protest in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A demonstrator with Black Lives Matter holds up a sign during a protest in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2016.
Reuters/Joshua Roberts

"Black Lives Matter" has become a mantra for people protesting police violence against African Americans.

It's a hash tag, a popular t-shirt slogan and a movement that is loosely organized - by design.

Black Lives Matter was founded by three women who popularized the slogan during protests over the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen who was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida.

It has a website (BlackLivesMatter.com) and a network of chapters. But the idea is bigger than the organization.

Although the march where five Dallas police officers were fatally shot Thursday was organized by another group, news reports described it as a Black Lives Matters event.

"The convenient narrative has been for people, for the media to say, 'Well, this was organized by Black Lives Matter'," said Tezlyn Figaro, a publicist for Next Generation Action Network, the group that organized the event. The rally "had no affiliation with Black Lives Matter."

The confusion flows in part from the decentralized structure of the Black Lives Matter organization and its founders' desire that it remain open and inclusive.

"Not everyone who shows up at a demonstration is a full-fledged member of BLM, (but) they're welcomed and encouraged to participate," Melina Abdullah, a representative of the group's Los Angeles chapter, said in a conversation with Reuters in June.

During the standoff with police negotiators Thursday, the shooter invoked the slogan, saying he was "upset about black lives matter," according to Dallas Police Chief David Brown.

The organization disavowed the violence in a post on its web page.

"This is a tragedy - both for those who have been impacted by yesterday's attack and for our democracy," it said.

"There are some who would use these events to stifle a movement for change and quicken the demise of a vibrant discourse on the human rights of Black Americans. We should reject all of this. Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it."

That didn't stop a wave of social media criticism attempting to tie the violence to the movement. But U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaking about the demonstrations inspired by Black Lives and other groups, drew a bright line between the gunman's actions and "lawful protest and protected speech."

"Do not be discouraged by those who use your lawful actions as cover for their heinous violence," Lynch said Friday. "We will continue to safeguard your constitutional rights and to work with you in the difficult mission of building a better nation and a brighter future."

Some said the best way to define the movement is by continuing to push a positive message. After a vigil Friday in Dallas for the slain officers, Richmond Bunch played "Amazing Grace" on his violin.

"We need to frame out a way to come back to peace," said Bunch, 35, an African-American Dallas resident and Black Lives Matter contributor. "The guy who committed this act, he doesn't stand for what America is."

homepage: homepage: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-police-blacklivesmatter-idUSKCN0ZP04A

The Black Lives Matter Founders Are Among the World's Greatest Leaders 09.Jul.2016 15:28

by Erin Griffith @eringriffith March 24, 2016

They succeeded where Occupy Wall Street failed.

The staff of Fortune and a panel of experts recently assembled our 2016 list of the World's Greatest Leaders. Here's a short profile of three of them.

Modern social movements often fizzle after their moment in the national news (Occupy Wall Street and to a lesser extent the Tea Party come to mind). But Black Lives Matter has steadily gained momentum since its founding in 2013, when activist Alicia Garza coined the phrase and fellow activist Patrisse Cullors made it a hashtag. Alongside Opal Tometi, they created the Black Lives Matter network, which has grown to 28 local chapters, each fighting a range of racial injustices like police brutality and racial profiling. Last year the movement inspired college students to take up the mantel, with some successes (the system president and chancellor of the University of Missouri resigned over outcry they failed to address campus racism). They also pushed the presidential candidates to address the country's systemic racism - an issue would-be nominees would probably have preferred to sidestep.

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi 09.Jul.2016 15:34


The three-word civil rights movement.

From left: Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi. | Ben Baker for Politico Magazine/Redux Pictures

Over the past year, thehashtag #BlackLivesMatter has turned into a rallying cry for racial justice, riding a wave of online buzz and public protest in the aftermath of demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, right into the everyday American lexicon. It might even be changing the way Americans think about race: Sixty percent now say there is more work to be done to give white and black people equal rights, up from 46 percent last year.

How did three words launch a modern-day civil rights movement? The phrase was coined in 2013, in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of the black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. San Francisco-based Alicia Garza, an organizer with the National Domestic Workers' Alliance, took to social media after the news broke to write a love letter to black people on her Facebook page—a simple plea to come together in recognition that "black lives matter." Her friend Patrisse Cullors, head of an advocacy organization for incarcerated people, repeated the line on her own social media accounts, this time adding a hashtag. Soon enough, the pair, along with their tech-savvy friend Opal Tometi, director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, had lit up the Web with a plea to acknowledge—and fix—the disproportionate apprehension, imprisonment and killing of black Americans by the police.

While it started out as a way to mobilize demonstrations from New York to St. Louis in response to police violence against African-Americans, Black Lives Matter today has 26 chapters in the United States, Britain and Ghana, and represents a broad agenda of economic equality and criminal justice reform. The group connects activists and organizes protests—more than 900 to date—in a single network that has advanced one of the most vocal and visible news stories of the year: the intersection of police abuse and racial injustice.


Social media movements are prone to skepticism, but it's hard to imagine recent progress on criminal justice—from the White House task force on policing to the Justice Department's body camera initiative—happening without public pressure amplified by Black Lives Matter. In April, when a bystander captured footage of a cop shooting a fleeing black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, he turned to a Black Lives Matter member to help share the video. The officer was arrested and indicted for murder.

Now, these three words are a sticking point in the 2016 presidential race. Ever since Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley declared that "all lives matter," protesters identifying with the Black Lives Matter movement have stormed campaign events (or tried to) for O'Malley, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to demand that the candidates acknowledge, and confront, institutional racism. (O'Malley later apologized.) Clinton, for one, says she is embracing the movement. "We need to acknowledge some hard truths about race and justice," she wrote on her Facebook page this summer. "Black lives matter."