2013 – Black Lives Matter shines spotlight on police violence and systemic racism

In 2013, three Black women community organizers founded BlackLivesMatter – a member-led movement to build Black communities’ power to end the violence inflicted on them by the state and vigilantes. Today it is a global network committed to struggling for a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.

BLM was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi following a series of brutal murders of black citizens by police officers, and outrage at the 2012 acquittal of George Zimmerman who had shot dead 17-year-old Trayvon Martin outside a petrol station in Sanford, Florida. Police violence has been a constant in the US, but the phone video recordings made the issue one that could no-longer be ignored.

Initially a social media hashtag to organize protests, BLM soon became an organized grassroots network using a range of tactics, most notably highway shutdowns, to say that business cannot continue has usual.

In the wake of the massive protests in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown, a new network, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), emerged that included BLM and other groups and put forward a radical expansive platform that spans issues of economic, social, environmental and racial inequality.

The platform demands an end to “wars against Black people” and details policies that can be enacted at local, state and federal level to address and provide reparations for harms done by systemic racism. Amongst other activities, M4BL has organized a ‘National Black Mama’s Day Bail-out’ to reunite incarcerated mothers with their families and raise awareness of the injustice of the bail system.

BLM and M4BL draw on many decades of powerful activism by Black liberation groups in the US, such as the Black Panther Party and the Combahee River Collective in Boston in the 1970s. The latter had highlighted the multiple oppressions that Black women faced due to their race, sex, class and sexual orientation, and the need to organize to end all oppression.

BLM and M4BL have helped to propel an international conversation around the state-sanctioned violence and systemic racism experienced by Black people, not least Black women, and specifically Black trans-women. “When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free”, says Alicia Garza.

Local Black Lives Matter chapters are asked to commit to the organization’s guiding principles – diversity, globalism, empathy, restorative justice and intergenerationality. Today it is an international activist network, hailed by some as a new civil rights movement.