FILE - In this June 6, 2020, file photo, a protester looks up at a sign that reads “Black Lives Matter” in Marseille, southern France, during a protest against the recent death of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter has gone mainstream — and black activists are carefully assessing how they should respond. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole, File)

FILE - In this June 6, 2020, file photo, a protester looks up at a sign that reads “Black Lives Matter” in Marseille, southern France, during a protest against the recent death of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter has gone mainstream — and black activists are carefully assessing how they should respond. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole, File)

Long seen as radical, Black Lives Matter goes mainstream

The Black Lives Matter movement boasts a following of millions across social media platforms

For much of its seven-year existence, the Black Lives Matter movement has been seen by many Americans as a divisive, even radical force. Its very name enraged its foes, who countered with the slogans “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.”

Times have changed — dramatically so — as evidenced during the wave of protests sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Black Lives Matter has gone mainstream — and black activists are carefully assessing how they should respond.

A few examples of the changed landscape:

Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican stalwart, joined a Black Lives Matter march. Some NASCAR drivers, whose fan base includes legions of conservative whites, embraced the phrase. So did NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The mayor of Washington ordered the words painted in large letters on a street near the White House. Now, Black Lives Matter Plaza turns up in driving directions from Google Maps.

Like many black activists, Sakira Cook is pleased by such developments but also cautious. She and others worry that businesses and politicians will hijack the slogan without any real commitment to doing the hard work needed to fight racism.

“Black Lives Matter is not just a rallying cry,” said Cook, director of the Justice Reform Program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“It actually means you have to start to interrogate the systemic racism and inequalities that exist in our society and help to dismantle them. You must make sure you’re not co-opting this for your own purposes.”

The Black Lives Matter movement emerged amid anger over the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012.

As a slogan, “Black lives matter” soon became as widely heard at protests as “No justice, no peace.”

READ MORE: Amid anti-racism protests, Trudeau promises to push police body cameras with premiers

Nationally, the phrase was praised for its clarity and attacked as strident and hostile toward police. But support grew as the list of slain black people got longer: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile.

“When we started Black Lives Matter, it was really to have a larger conversation around this country about its relationship to black people,” said Patrisse Cullors, one of three black women who founded the Black Lives Matter Global Network, with chapters throughout the U.S. and in Britain and Canada. “What keeps happening, time and time again, is we’re witnessing black people die on camera, and there is little to no accountability.”

While large donations poured into the new, loose-knit group of black-led grassroots organizations, prominent figures within the movement were subjected to years of rebukes and threats from police, their unions and elected officials.

Cullors said she and others were dismissed as too militant to be taken seriously by many of the individuals and corporations in the mainstream that now embrace their message.

In 2018, news reports revealed that the FBI’s counterterrorism division had begun tracking anti-police threats from black activists in the wake of deadly ambushes on police officers in New York, Texas and Louisiana. Many Black Lives Matter activists feared it was a repeat of the Cointelpro era, when the FBI illegally conducted surveillance and sabotage against civil rights groups and other organizations suspected of having links to the Communist Party in the 1950s and ’60s.

Today, the Black Lives Matter movement boasts a following of millions across social media platforms. A coalition known as the Movement for Black Lives, formed in 2014, now includes more than 150 affiliate organizations that have organized around such causes as defunding police departments and reinvesting in struggling black communities.

READ MORE: History of systemic racism between RCMP and First Nations must be addressed: B.C. chief

Its agenda focuses heavily on overhauling police training, the use of force and the punishment of rogue officers. The movement is also pressing to erase economic inequality and disparities in education and health care.

“There are hundreds of thousands of black visionaries around the world that are doing the work that people keep saying, ‘Oh, that’s never going to happen. … Not in this lifetime,’” Cullors said. “And look what happened. Something gets unlocked, and because we’ve already laid the seeds, we’ve already had the conversations, the people doing the work get to bear the fruit.”

Although the current surge of support for the movement is vindicating, it’s not sufficient to realize the original vision, Cullors said.

Malik Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice, praised “Black lives matter” as “one of the most brilliant and creative phrases of our generation,” one that has won acceptance well beyond the movement.

“There’s a danger it will become co-opted and mainstreamed,” he said. “But right now, anyone in our struggle would be happy more people are using it.”

READ MORE: Canadian non-profit creates fund to streamline donations to Black-based charities

Shabazz said it is important for black people to remain at the forefront of the movement, even as more Americans of other races voice support.

“It’s up to us that we don’t get happy with a couple of weeks of protest and demonstrations,” he said. “This is a good start. We just have to dig in and stay for the long haul. “

Khalilah Brown-Dean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University who has written about inequality and criminal justice reform, said uttering the slogan is easy. What comes next matters more.

“It’s much more important for public officials and policymakers to inculcate that belief into the very fabric of how they lead and govern,” she said. “Painting a street, marching in a rally, or wearing kente cloth are only useful if these symbolic acts translate into substantive action.”

The counter-slogans that emerged in 2014-15 — “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” — have surfaced only sporadically in the past two weeks. Plans for a Blue Lives Matter rally in Las Vegas were scrapped after the city’s police department refused to help promote it.

“All Lives Matter,” from the start, angered some black activists who said it minimized the entrenched racism faced by black people.

Last week, longtime Sacramento Kings TV broadcaster Grant Napear resigned after tweeting “ALL LIVES MATTER” when asked his opinion on the Black Lives Matter movement. On Saturday, the top editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer resigned amid a furor over the headline “Buildings Matter, Too.”

David Crary And Aaron Morrison, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

racism

Just Posted

Tania McCabe is the city’s director of finance. (File photo)
What’s going on with my property taxes? Q&A with Tania McCabe

Deadline to pay property taxes in Revelstoke is July 2 this year

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

Revelstoke Grizzlies playing in 2019. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
Do you like Revelstoke hockey? Then host a Grizzlies hockey player!

The team is getting ready for next year’s hockey season

Men in a work camp at Mile 46 on the Big Bend Highway. 
(Revelstoke Museum and Archives Photo 2259)
Glimpses of Revelstoke’s past for June 17

Bumper strawberry crop, Mt. Logan climbers and unemployment relief

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed Eli Beauregard facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

Most Read