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Why Black Lives Matter Is the Movement of the Year

Posted on Dec 30, 2015

By Sonali Kolhatkar

  Black Lives Matter activists march in Minneapolis in November. (Jim Mone / AP)

Although more than two years have passed since three black women—Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi—founded Black Lives Matter (BLM) in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the murder of Trayvon Martin, the U.S. justice system’s continued failures clearly illustrate why the movement is still as important and necessary as ever.

Earlier this month, a Baltimore judge declared a mistrial in the case of William Porter, the first of six officers to be indicted in the death of Freddie Gray.

Then, just five days later, on Dec. 21, a Texas grand jury decided not to indict anyone in the mysterious police-custody death of Sandra Bland.

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A week after that, a grand jury in Cleveland similarly refused to indict anyone for the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

Bland’s mother said at a press conference, “I simply can’t have faith in a system that’s not inclusive of my family. ... We feel like we have been shut out of this process from the very beginning.” Rice’s family released a statement echoing a similar lack of faith, saying: “[W]e no longer trust the local criminal justice system, which we view as corrupt.”

Meanwhile, police continue to kill.

On Christmas Eve, officers in Dearborn, Mich., killed Kevin Matthews, an unarmed 35-year-old black man. Then on the day after Christmas, in Chicago, officers killed two African-Americans: Quintonio LeGrier, 19, and Bettie Jones, 55. Both incidents came just weeks after a damning video of the 2014 Chicago police killing of Laquan McDonald, 17, was released to the public, sparking massive protests.

This year alone, according to a database compiled by The Washington Post, police killed nearly 1,000 civilians. Of those who were unarmed, 40 percent were black men, even though black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population.

These are some of the reasons that the most important racial justice movement of the past two years is called Black Lives Matter. If black lives mattered to the police and our criminal justice system, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald and others would probably still be alive. If black lives mattered to the system, the officers responsible for these deaths would be serving time.

Thus, BLM activists across the nation have been continuing their vociferous protests against police violence through the holiday season, under the banner of #BlackXmas. In Minneapolis, where activists have worked hard to hold police accountable for the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark, 24, demonstrators planned a rally at the Mall of the Americas.

It is quite appropriate that they chose to target a major retail establishment during the busiest shopping season of the year. Mall officials panicked and tried to block the rally, and a judge banned three activists from making an appearance at it, but in the end the protest went forward—albeit with a massive police presence and several arrests. Hundreds of BLM activists then turned their attention to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, blocking access to it for two hours.

If black lives mattered to nonblacks, we would not see such a tone-deaf response to the Minneapolis airport action as this post in The Blaze titled “Dear Black Lives Matter: Thanks For Taking Selfishness To New Heights.” The author, Mary Ramirez—upset at having her Christmas travel plans interrupted—wrote, “Look, I get it. You’ve got a bone to pick, and you’re looking to make a splash by disrupting the Christmas plans of thousands of completely innocent people at the country’s biggest mall, and at a major airport.”

Ramirez is probably reflecting what most nonblack Americans might feel if they are personally inconvenienced by activism over the life-and-death issue of racial justice. To those who remain unaffected by police violence, BLM is simply an annoyance, an inconvenient disruption to business as usual.


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