Who Is Behind Black Lives Matter?

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When the man who killed the black teenager Trayvon Martin was acquitted in the summer of 2013, a ‘hashtag’ began to circulate on social networks that were born as a desperate cry of rage and indignation that ended up becoming a social movement of protest against him. Systemic racism from a country, the United States, where you are twice as likely to die in a confrontation with the police if you are African-American, and which almost seven years later has been around the world after the death of George Floyd. A year after #BlackLivesMatter appeared in a Facebook post, it began to be heard in protests over the death of another young black man, Michael Brown, at the hands of a white police officer who was never prosecuted, and another similar case days later in New York, where another African-American, Eric Garner, died screaming “I can’t breathe” in an arrest that was recorded on a cell phone when an agent kept him immobilized with a controversial strangulation key very common among police.

Behind that ‘hashtag’ were Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, three activists who soon understood the power of platforms like Facebook or Twitter to mobilize a community tired of a system incapable of responding to the problem of racism, for which they You have to go back to the times of the founding of this country. “We started connected to people through networks to take action to the streets,” Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, told public radio NPR. Six years later, far from being a spontaneous movement, they already have an organized structure made up of a network of 16 local “chapters” present in the United States and Canada, which are once again leading the protests against police brutality. A movement that has been nurtured by the historical struggles of other groups such as the Black Panthers or the Black Power of the 1960s that emerged after the death of Martin Luther King, the civil rights leader who once “dreamed” that another world was possible.

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His daughter Bernice King said in an interview last week that surely her father would be “extremely proud” of the protests that have once again filled the streets of the United States and other parts of the world. “Freedom is something that is won day by day, generation after generation, and these young people who are demonstrating today are also earning it,” said this woman, who was barely five years old when her father was murdered outside a hotel. in Memphis. From Black Lives Matter they celebrate that in their demonstrations no one color predominates more than another, they are white, black, and brown alike fighting against a system that discriminates.

The explanation from Princeton University African-American Studies professor Keeanga Taylor is revealing. “It not only speaks of the solidarity that young white people can feel for their black colleagues, but it also has to do with their lack of security in the future because of what is happening in this country,” he says. Their requests seem as simple to understand as complex when it comes to finding solutions. “We want to stop investing so much in arming the police and for resources to go to black communities, we want to end this war against blacks,” Opal Tometi told the magazine ‘The New Yorker’. “The pain in our communities must end, the damage that is being done to us must be repaired. We deserve a dignified life, the possibility of prospering,” he added.

Since its founding, they have sought to place on the public agenda not only issues such as police violence or white supremacism, more cheered than ever since the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House, the same president who days ago called the protesters of Minneapolis. They want to speak of the lack of opportunities in matters such as education, health, housing, or employment, of endemic discrimination and racial inequalities that have led to social discontent that continues to grow. They respond to the criticism they receive for the serious riots in which many demonstrations end with an argument. “Human lives lost do not have the same value as damaged goods and properties,” according to Tometi, who also recalls that in their slogans they make constant calls to protest peacefully and with uncovered faces, not only to leave anonymity but to avoid the infiltration of other groups in favor of more violent routes.

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As a grassroots movement, their bet continues to be in the streets and the latest mobilizations have once again placed them at the center of the public debate, where they have seen that the growing popular support has been joined by the increasingly visible support of the Democratic opposition and from powerful foundations and large multinationals such as Amazon, Twitter or Nintendo. But in Black Lives Matter, they also understand that the final leap will only come when they begin to occupy positions of power.
“What will happen when we are councilors, members of school boards, or mayors?” Asks activist DeRay McKesson. “It will be then when we begin to see the real changes that are sorely lacking,” responds this 34-year-old, who in 2016 tried unsuccessfully to be mayor of Baltimore and has become one of the best-known voices in recent years. a movement that claims to be ready for a new phase in its fight for racial justice.