Black Lives Matter movement was created by Alicia Garcia, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors in 2014 after the trial of George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was a resident of a Florida neighbourhood who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager.
Although the movement was created after the police killing of Trayvon, it was also created “as a response to the anti-black racism that permeated out society (Black Lives Matter, 2016).” The creators describe the movement as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”
The movement has participated in a number of protests and organizing since the creation of the group. Some of these events include the organizing and protest of unarmed black men and women such as Ferguson, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland.
There has also been organizing and protesting in Canada by Black Lives Matter Toronto and Vancouver, and in Montreal by the Black Coalition of Quebec. In Toronto, Black Lives Matter have held a number of events and rallies around police brutality, racism, and fatal encounters the police have with people of colour and the mentally disabled. Some of these events include the protest around the shooting of Jermaine Carby by Peel Police, protest around carding and street checks by police departments across the GTA, and most recently protesting and organizing around the death of Abdirahman Abdi.
One question I keep asking myself and others is, what separates Black Lives Matter with other movements and organizations in the past that fought against anti-blackness, police brutality, and civil rights? Movements like the civil rights, black power and black feminist, black liberation, and anti-apartheid movements all come to mind. Groups like the National Council of Jamaicans and the Black Action Defense Committee also come to mind.
Reviewing the Civil Rights movements, it is clear that there are two stories associated with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, there is a dominant story that places the movement starting in the 1950s. There is also an alternative story that places the movement beginning in the 1940s. The movement in the 1940s was sparked by a number of events, the great depression, and international events; the persecution of Jews by Nazi’s (Hall, 2005, p. 1245). Hall describes the Black Popular Front and the organizing done by Martha Biondi as the first phase of the civil rights movement (p. 1245). Hall also argues that the persecution of Jews by Nazis brought striking similarities between racism and anti-Semitism (1247.) Other events include anti-colonialism movements in Africa and Asia, intersectional feminism, and the inclusion of African-Americans into American society.
The dominant story of the civil rights movement begins towards the end of the 1950s “it involved blacks and whites, southerners and northerners, local people and federal officials, secularists and men and women of faith (p. 1251).” The goal of the movement was
dismantling Jim Crow, a system built as much on economic exploitation as on de jure and de facto spatial separation. In the mind of the movement activist, integration was never about ‘racial mingling’ or ‘merely sitting next to whites in school.’ as it is sometimes caricatured now. Nor did it imply assimilation into status white-defined institutions, however much whites assumed that it did. True integration was an is an expansive and radical goal, not an ending or abolition of something that once was – the legal separation of bodies by race – but a process of transforming institutions and building on equitable, democratic, multiracial, and multiethnic society (p. 1251-1252).
Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King Jr. and his contributions to the movement and the March on Washington in 1963 are all part of the dominant story of the movement. As mentioned earlier, the goal of the movement was to dismantle Jim Crow laws, that allowed for legal racial segregation, and to ensure that everyone had equal rights.
Hall raises two important points about the movement that are often overlooked, the involvement of black women in organizing and the role of urban planning.
It was Claudia James and the Congress of American Women that brought up the concept of triple oppression of black women, their race, class, and gender (p. 1247). It was these women that were at the March on Washington “demanding jobs for all, decent housing, fair pay, and equal rights…thus asserting both their racial solidarity and their identities as activists and workers and thereby the equals of men (p. 1252)”.
This solidifies the importance of black women in organizing and fighting against oppression both during the civil rights movements in the past and the current Black Lives Matter movements of today.
Urban planning had a huge impact on black lives and racial inequality in the United States, I will touch on some of these planning decisions in a later post. However, some of these decisions included highway building choices, zoning by-laws, denying mortgages to African-Americans, and federal lending policies that mandated racial homogeneity (p. 1241).
The Black Power Movement was a movement documented from beginning in the 1950’s and ending in 1975 (Joseph, 2001, p. 2) The movement began around the same time as the Cold War and the political repression the war had on Americans. It was heavily influenced by the political atmosphere in the Unites States and “global events including anti-colonial uprisings in Ghana, Cuba, and the African Congo (Joseph, p. 3).” The difference between the two movements was that the Civil Rights Movement emphasized on getting their message across through non-violence, whereas the Black Power Movement was fine with being militant. The Black Power movement left two lasting impressions on the Unites States.
These two movements provide historical context of black radicalism, organizing and fighting for change. It shows that the fight for civil rights and fair treatment was not just an “American thing”, this was truly a global movement and continues to be a global movement to this day. Some of the arguments in Canada and in the Canadian media when discussing Black Lives Matter is that they often say “its an American issue” or that “black Canadians are not facing the same oppression as black-Americans”. That is simply not true, Canadians continue to face discrimination by police departments, the justice system, and issues with the Children’s Aid Society.
There have also been organizations in the past in Canada that have also fought against police brutality and racism in Canada with organizations like the National Council of Jamaicans and the Black Action Defence Committee. Both organizations have worked individually and together in the past to fight against discriminatory policies and police brutality. The National Council of Jamaicans was able to change discriminatory immigration policies and help add passages to the Fair Employment Act and the Fair Accommodation Practices Act (Powell, 2015). In 1988, the Black Action Defence Committee was created due to a number of shootings of black men (Jackson, 1994, p. 219). The goal of the BADC was the “elimination of racism particularly as it impacts the Black community by advocating policies and practices that are geared toward this end (Black Action Defence Committee, 2016). The work done by the BADC in the early 1990s is responsible for the creation of the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) in Ontario (Black Action Defence Committee, 2016). The role of the SIU is to investigate “circumstances involving police and civilians that result in death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault (Powell, 2015).”
The National Council of Jamaicans, Black Action Defence Committee, and Black Lives Matter Toronto all have similar themes and are fighting for the same goal; removing all forms of anti-black racism. I believe Black Lives Matter Toronto is just continuing the work that BADC did in the past. The sole difference from Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizations that came before them is the use of technology. Even though the time has changed there is still a need to fight for racial equality.
There have been a number of accomplishments from the work Black Lives Matter have done both in the United States and Canada. In the United States, they have successfully raised awareness around police violence against women and the trans community, forced schools to look into their racial history, and brought attention to racial bias in the criminal justice system (Workneh, 2015). In Canada, the organization has garnered attention from their protest which had led to coroner’s inquest, a discussion around carding and street checks, which eventually led to the suspension of this policy (Battersby, 2016). Black Lives Matter and organizations similar to it will continue to remain relevant until anti-blackness and discriminatory policies are removed from every facet of everyday life.
Battersby, S. J. (2016, April 16). From Jermaine Carby to Andrew Loki: a timeline of Black Lives Matter in Toronto. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/04/16/from-jermaine-carby-to-andrew-loku-a-timeline-of-black-lives-matter-in-toronto.html
Black Action Defense Committee. (2016). About Us. Retrieved from http://blackactiondefence.weebly.com/about-us.html
Black Lives Matter. (2016). A HerStory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. Retrieved from http://blacklivesmatter.com/herstory/
Hall, J. D. (2005). The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past. The Journal of American History, 91(4), 1233-1263.
Joseph, P. (2001). Black Liberation Without Apology: Reconceptualizing the Black Power Movement. The Black Scholar, 31(3-4), 2-19
Powell, B. (2014). Settling in Canada: Jamaicans have a story to tell. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?id=wblNBAAAQBAJ&pg=PT248&lpg=PT248&dq=national+council+of+jamaicans&source=bl&ots=aHMbmnb5Do&sig=apnR7AtiB3_HFShGz-7g0LuI_yY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjktpaLs-zOAhXLNx4KHdhBBu04FBDoAQgaMAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
Workneh, L. (2015, December 22). 11 Big Accomplishments Black Activists Achieved in 2015. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/11-big-accomplishments-black-activists-achieved-in-2015_us_567996bae4b0b958f6583320