A brief history of the Black Lives Matter movement

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The Black Lives Matter hashtag has erupted over social media within the last few months. It’s been seen all over Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and has been used all over the world.

Black Lives Matter protests have erupted all over the world. (CNN/website)

Black Lives Matter has now turned into a movement, with protests on the streets all over the world. Saint John had its own protest uptown with thousands of participants.

But what does the phrase Black Lives Matter really mean? What is the history behind it? Today, people are using it in reference to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many other unarmed Black individuals who were killed by police officers.

Black Lives Matter hashtag origins

Before the protests against inequality, racism, and police brutality began this year, the hashtag was first used in 2013. Three Black organizers, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, initiated a political movement meant to be a powerful and radical response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman.

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Eastern Mennonite University/website)

The phrase, Black Lives Matter, made its first public appearance when Alicia Garza used the hashtag in a post lovingly called “A Love Letter to Black People”.

What the Black Lives Matter saying represents

In an interview with National Geographic back in July, while talking about the power Black Lives Matter holds, Garza said, “‘Black Lives Matter is so simple and yet so complex. It really is a very direct assertion of both a problem and a solution at the same time. Here we are seven years later, and I think what’s become clear is that some of the discomfort with this statement is that it forces you to choose sides. You can’t say some Black lives matter or they kind of matter or they matter sometimes. The statement asks you, do you believe Black lives matter? And if so, is that the world that we live in right now? And if not, what are we going to do to close the gap there?”

Seven years later, this phrase is still holding its voice and power. The project started by three Black women is now a large global member-led network with more than 40 chapters.

This network is still fighting to build local and national power to intervene against violence towards Black communities through systemic racism, government, and state control.

The movement continues past 2013

Of course, now, the hashtag has a larger history behind it. Not only does it stand for Trayvon Martin’s unjust murder, but it also stands for the hundreds of other innocent Black lives who have been and continue to be killed at the hands of police officers.

Since the hashtag started other deaths that gained internet virality include Tamir Rice (2014), Laquan McDonald (2014), John Crawford (2014), Freddie Gray (2015), Walter Scott (2015), Alton Sterling (2016), Philando Castile (2016), Terence Crutcher (2016), Antwon Rose (2018), and many others.

Movement expands with Say Her Name

Black women and girls who have also been the target of police brutality have gained more attention through the “Say Her Name” movement, largely popular on Twitter, which highlights the lack of attention that these deaths receive.

Breonna Taylor, killed earlier this year, is the face of the movement, but other women who have died at the hands of police in the U.S. include Sandra Bland (2015), Deborah Danner (2016), and Atatiana Jefferson (2019).

EMT Breonna Taylor was killed by police in March of 2020. (BBC/Facebook)

Movement successful but must continue

The virality of all these hashtags, posts, and protests have led to an amass of public awareness, conversation, and the charge and arrest of George Floyd’s killers. This movement still has a long way to go, but the first step, and the most difficult step, has been initiated.

To learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement, visit their website here.