The Black Lives Matter Movement

Listen to this article
The Black Lives Matter Movement

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a human rights movement that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards Black people.

The movement began in 2013 with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of an African American teenager named Trayvon Martin.

Supporters of BLM saw this as another example of society not valuing Black lives nor holding accountable those who harm Black people. The originators of the hashtag and call to action were three women of color: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.

The movement became nationally recognized for protests and unrest following the deaths of two African Americans in the summer of 2014.

In July, Eric Garner died in New York City after a police officer put him in a prohibited chokehold while arresting him. Garner repeated the words "I can't breathe" 11 times while lying face down on the sidewalk and video footage of the incident generated national attention and raised questions about the appropriate use of force by law enforcement.

The Black Lives Matter Movement

The next month, 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.

This resulted in multiple waves of protests and riots in Ferguson over law enforcement's relationship with African Americans, the militarization of police, and racial profiling.

Since the Ferguson protests, supporters of the BLM movement have demonstrated against the deaths of numerous other African Americans by police actions or while in police custody. BLM regularly holds protests speaking out against police brutality and police killings of Black people, and broader issues such as racial profiling, and racial inequality in the American criminal justice system.

The BLM Movement is decentralized, meaning that there is no central, authoritative group that dictates what the movement does. However, there are about 16 official chapters in the United States and Canada that act as non-profit groups to, "build collective impact to achieve Black liberation around the world."

However, the majority of people who support BLM do so not as part of any official group, but through solidarity actions on social media and in person. The broader movement typically advocates against police violence towards Black people, as well as for various other policy changes considered to be related to Black liberation.

In 2020, the movement returned to national headlines and gained further international attention following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.

An estimated 15 million to 26 million people participated in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests across the United States, making Black Lives Matter one of the largest movements in American history. The movement has advocated to defund the police and invest directly into Black communities and alternative emergency response models.

The popularity of Black Lives Matter has rapidly shifted over time. Whereas public opinion on Black Lives Matter was net negative in 2018, it grew increasingly popular through 2019 and 2020.

A June 2020 Pew Research Center poll found that the majority of Americans, across all racial and ethnic groups, have expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

World History Book Home
US History Book Home