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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(NEWS FILE PHOTO)
ACRD, City of Port Alberni receive $4 million for COVID-19

Municipalities have until end of 2021 to allocate funding

The site of the former Arrowview Hotel, on Second Avenue and Athol Street, as of Jan. 14, 2020. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Port Alberni pressures Arrowview Hotel owner for final cleanup

Demolition finished in June 2020 but site still full of construction material

West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni received some good news about an expansion to its emergency department on Jan. 15, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
B.C. health ministry commits $6.25M to hospital expansion in Port Alberni

Plans for larger emergency department have been on hold since 2015

A Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation guardian took this photo of dozens of vehicles parked along a forest service road in the Kennedy watershed. (Submitted photo)
Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District looks at enforcement of illegal camping

ACRD currently does not have an existing bylaw service to tackle the issue

Randy Brown, owner of Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue, has five trailers and a motorhome at the back of his property that he is renting to people who had been previously homeless. He wants to put 15 trailers on his property, hooked up to city sewer and water and BC Hydro. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Building owner digs in heels, refuses to remove illegal trailers from property

Port Alberni council gives owner two-week reprieve on remediation orders

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy, Everett Bumstead.
The tree-planting life on Vancouver Island featured in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

Most Read