WMNews: Black Lives Matter Movement

Script written by Sean Harris What started as a trending hashtag has now become one of America’s largest and most influential activist groups. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we're counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the Black Lives Matter movement.
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Script written by Sean Harris


WMNews: Black Lives Matter Movement



What started as a trending hashtag has now become one of America’s largest and most influential activist groups. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this installment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the Black Lives Matter movement.

#10: What Is Black Lives Matter?
The Movement

Black Lives Matter is an activist group and social movement that crusades against violence toward black people. The group coordinates protests and demonstrations to draw greater attention to the unfair treatment of black people within society, which includes racial profiling, police brutality and the killing ofblack people by law enforcement agencies. BLM emerged in 2013, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator who shot 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin the previous year. The movement gained greater attention during the Ferguson unrest that began in 2014, which was sparked by the fatal shooting of the 18-year-old black man Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. Since then, further incidents have only increased the movement’s presence.

#9: Who Is Leading the Movement?
The Many

Though there are various significant figures within the group, Black Lives Matter is a decentralized organization with no official or specified ‘leader.’ Instead, the movement involves anybody who publically declares for the cause and devotes time and energy toward it. In 2013, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi set up the Black Lives Matter Network, an online platform accessible to activists where common goals and principles are laid out. United by these principles, BLM is built around ‘chapters’ operating throughout North America – each chapter acts as a local strand of the greater group. On its website, BLM explains that the movement isn’t ‘leaderless’ but in fact ‘leaderfull,’ given the many activists who play a major role.

#8: What Inspired BLM?
The Brutality

Black Lives Matter draws inspiration from other major organizations in history, including the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power movement and the Blackfeminist movement, as well as other grassroots campaigns like Occupy Wall Street. BLM was established following the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Turner but has seen its profile rise considerably since then, in the wake of other high profile deaths of African-Americans in police custody or as a result of police actions. The shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice who had been carrying a replica pistol, the shooting of unarmed 44-year old Eric Courtney Harris and the shooting of unarmed 50-year old Walter Scott following a traffic stop are just three in a series of deaths driving the BLM cause.

#7: How Does BLM Compare to Other Political Movements?
The Protests

A major difference between Black Lives Matter and the Civil Right’s Movement is BLM’s lack of a central figure like Martin Luther King Jr. While Dr. King’s cultural significance is in no way downplayed, BLM sees flaws with the Civil Rights Model. By not having a designated leader, the group says it encourages equal potential within the movement for men and women, the young and old, heterosexual, homosexual and transgender activists. Black Lives Matter doesn’t have a set profile or a recognizable face. It also argues that by not having identifiable leaders the movement is less vulnerable, as no central figure is especially in danger of being harassed, targeted or potentially killed. There are other recent examples of similarly people-powered protest groups, such as Occupy Wall Street, which rallies against social and economic inequality worldwide – again without formal leadership. However, while the group strives to remain decentralized in its leadership, it has worked towards unifying its goals due to criticism that the group lacked structure – similar to criticism levied at the Occupy movement. Proposed in 2015, the Campaign Zero manifesto consists of ten suggestions designed to decrease police violence – though many of the policies it advocates already exist in many places.

#6: What Role Has Social Media Played in the BLM Movement?
#BlackLivesMatter

Essentially, BLM started with a hashtag. Following George Zimmerman’s acquittal in Trayvon Martin’s death, social media users united under the slogan. Supporters are clear to state that this slogan is not meant to imply that the lives of those outside of the black community do not matter, but that African-Americans are faced with specific societal issues that must be addressed. Today, key figures in the movement – like Shaun King, DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie – as well as the movement as a whole continue to use technology to cement its position at the forefront of social issues. In the past, mistreatment of people would’ve been reported by telephone and picked up by newspapers, but the stories might’ve been potentially diluted and falsified over time. Today, any mass event can be organized in minutes and any instance of injustice can be recorded and distributed in seconds – or in the case of Facebook Live, for example, in real-time. The likes of YouTube, Periscope, Twitter, Facebook and GroupMe combine to allow anyone access to the movement’s news and material, at any time. It’s another major reason why BLM figures believe that no recognized leader is necessary for this movement.

#5: Who Supports BLM?
The Community

Black Lives Matter has seen support steadily rise since its beginning, meaning its influence has also expanded. President Barack Obama has previously recognized the group as having a positive impact on society, saying that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of activists seek a ‘better relationship between the police and the community.’ A 2016 NBC News poll concluded that 73 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of Americans overall approve of BLM. Even so, many corporations have noticeably chosen to stay silent on the issue. Exceptions to that rule are somewhat progressive companies like Facebook and Twitter, which offered their support publicly. However, where other causes like LGBT issues and same-sex marriage were embraced by well-known brands like Target and Starbucks, most of corporate America has refrained from choosing a side. What’s more, for all those in favor of the BLM movement, it has also attracted criticism – with some commentators suggesting that Black Lives Matter has polarized the nation.

#4: Who Are BLM’s Critics?
The Controversy

The same NBC poll that found that 73 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of all Americans approve of BLM discovered that 70 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Americans overall disapprove of the movement. Critics like former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani argue that the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ is ‘inherently racist’ in itself, as well as ‘anti-American.’ And, while the group condemns violence of any kind, many were angered by the shooting of five Dallas cops in July 2016, seen by some as an indirect result of BLM actions. Debate has raged over whether Black Lives Matter is actually divisive and potentially dangerous to American society – an idea underlined by Jay Stalien, a black police officer in Florida whose strongly worded critique of BLM drew international attention online. The phrase ‘All Lives Matter’ emerged on social media as an attempt toward unity, but that too has since been labeled ‘perilous’ as it distracts attention from the matter at hand – the unfair treatment of black people. What’s worse, some see the ‘All Lives Matter’ not as an alternative to BLM but as a direct rival to the movement. In fact, some have even labeled ‘All Lives Matter’ as a racist statement itself.

#3: How Have America’s Leaders Reacted?
The Politicians

BLM has previously stated that it does not endorse, nor is it supported by, any particular political party. Members of the group argue that all parties have participated in the historic ‘systematic disenfranchisement of black people’. However, political reaction to the movement is key given that 2016 is an election year. The Republican Party has regularly criticized BLM, with Ted Cruz calling the alleged anti-police rhetoric ‘disgraceful’ and Ben Carson describing the movement as ‘political correctness going amok.’ In September 2015, Donald Trump said he thought the group was ‘trouble’ and criticized the Democrats for catering to it. Indeed, Hillary Clinton has appeared more supportive – in July 2016, following the separate police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the Democrat Presidential nominee tweeted ‘Black Lives Matter.’ However, during a recorded conversation between BLM and Clinton in August 2015, Clinton had shown some disagreement with the group’s approach, while the group pressed Clinton on her husband’s – former President Bill Clinton’s – own policies with regard to race. Even so, BLM urged all political leaders to take a stand on either side of the movement during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.

#2: What Kind of Impact Has the Movement Had?
The National Conversation

Black Lives Matter has had an undisputedly massive impact on modern North American culture and society, as it aims to dispel the belief that America is past its historic problems with regards to racial inequality. Changes in policing remain a primary concern, but BLM activism has also moved into major politics, Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Hollywood. As a result, for the police, body cameras are becoming increasingly important in an effort to monitor procedures; In the Justice Department, implicit bias training is to be introduced; The Central Bank has also announced plans to increase racial diversity in top jobs; And the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences has brought in a new, more racially diverse bloc of members following #OscarsSoWhite criticism of the 2016 Academy Awards. Essentially, BLM has forced race issues onto the front pages once again.

#1: What Does the Future Hold for the Movement?
The Next Step

Black Lives Matter is set to continue sparking debate in America, and the movement’s international influence is growing with BLM demonstrations staged in major European cities as well. While support steadily rises however, BLM also marches amid controversy. United beneath a slogan which some view as divisive and is slammed by critics for a supposed anti-police attitude, the group’s cause and method remains under scrutiny. As America edges towards a presidential election, issues concerning racial inequality are sure to feature on the campaign trail – and while BLM backs no candidate in particular, the group demands the attention of whoever next takes residence in the White House.  

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