The Radicalism of Black Lives Matter

Source: In These Times

Three years have passed since the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin prompted Oakland, Calif., organizer Alicia Garza to write an anguished Facebook post ending with the words “Black lives matter”—words that would channel an outpouring of outrage on social media. A year later, the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., ignited a local rebellion of Black citizenry, and a social movement took shape. That the Ferguson Police Department left Brown’s fatally wounded body on the street for hours encapsulates the disregard for Black suffering that continues to drive protest nationwide.

Already, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the violence it exposes feel like a fixture of our media and social landscape, the images jarring and unrelenting: Tamir Rice, a boy playing with a toy gun, shot by charging police; police chasing middle-aged Walter Scott and shooting him in the back; the cold-blooded execution of Laquan McDonald on a Chicago street; and most recently, the close-range shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and the point-blank killing of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., as he reached for his wallet, next to his girlfriend, before the eyes of her child. At the same time, the determined, angry, mournful protests nationwide—on interstate highways, on college campuses, in city streets—have become highly visible as the first sustained grassroots challenge to American policing in U.S. history.

Despite the media’s reductive framing, the movement is far from single-issue. If Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign sought to revitalize an electoral Left, BLM—along with the immigrant rights struggle and the Fight for $15—is reminding us of the power of mass action, moral outrage, youth leadership, civil disobedience, boisterous demonstrations, sophisticated use of media and spirited ideological debate in building a left consciousness and a movement.

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