Attention has been called to the Black Lives Matter movement by Blackout Tuesday – in which the music and other industries in the United States this week protested the death of George Floyd and other African Americans by shutting down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds -- the length of time Floyd was held to the ground with a policeman’s knee on his neck.
This statement against racial injustice has largely been associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, which began in July 2013 when George Zimmerman was acquitted of fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed black teenager.
Martin was killed by Zimmerman as he was walking from a convenience store to his father’s home in Sanford, Florida, where he was visiting. Zimmerman, a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman, called the local police department, mentioned there had been burglaries in the neighborhood, and said he observed “a real suspicious guy” who was “up to no good.”
The police dispatcher told Zimmerman his security services were not needed, but Zimmerman still left his vehicle, leading to a violent confrontation between himself and Martin. Zimmerman fatally shot Martin at close range and later claimed to police Martin assaulted him and he shot Martin in self-defense, the basis of his acquittal.
In response to Zimmerman’s acquittal, Alicia Garza, then activist and current co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Foundation, finished a post on Facebook with, “black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.”
Patrisse Cullors, fellow activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Foundation, followed up Garza’s post with the social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
The three-word slogan began to trend, and the movement gained national ground a year later in July 2014 with the death of Eric Garner.
Garner, a black man, was detained by New York City police for suspicion of selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island’s sidewalks. Police officer Daniel Pantaleo subdued Garner and choked him against the pavement as witnesses videotaped and recorded Garner saying, “I can’t breathe.”
The 43-year-old father of six was later pronounced dead in a hospital. The medical examiner found that the police officer’s chokehold triggered “a lethal cascade of events” that led to his death.
Almost two months after Garner’s death, 18-year-old black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.
The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag has continued to be used to protest what the movement perceives as the unequal administration of justice with regard to, in particular, the killing of African Americans by white police officers or others claiming to act in a law enforcement capacity.
While the movement enjoys broad support from African Americans, it has been criticized by conservatives, with some Republican politicians accusing it of fostering anti-police bias. A poll in 2015 found that 41 percent of white Americans believed the group advocated violence – something its leaders deny.
The organization also seeks to amplify anti-Black racism across the country, and the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter Foundation -- Garza, Cullor and Opal Tometi -- have maintained their organization’s mission to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”