For weeks, large protests were organized following the killing of George Floyd, a black man killed by a police officer. The video of the police officer pushing down Floyd’s neck with his knee as he pleaded for breath went viral. This brutal murder is only an addition to hundreds of stories of police brutality against people of color. But people have had enough.
Many have marched on major public venues from London to Nairobi, Melbourne to Beijing, Berlin to Tokyo, where speeches, songs, and silent demonstrations on bended knee were designed to send a message: racial violence, police brutality, and racism must stop. A report revealed that black people were killed by police at more than twice the rate of white people in 2015. However, when looking into the data of this report, numbers revealed nothing to indicate racial bias.
According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, 1,502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty police officers since the beginning of 2015. The report showed that 732 of the victims were white and 381 were black (382 were of another race). These results would tell anyone that it’s more likely for a white person to be shot by a police officer than a black person.
However, looking deeper, this isn’t the case. While half of the victims of police shootings in the US are white, they make up 62% of the US population. On the other hand, black people make up only 13% of the American population—yet, 24% of all the people killed by the police are black. Additionally, 32% of these black victims were unarmed when they were killed—twice the number of unarmed white people to die at the hands of the police.
A History of Racial Violence
In July 2013, George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teen. This outraging news sparked the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Alicia Garza, a Californian activist, responded to the jury’s decision on Facebook with a post that ended: “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.”
However, the BLM movement slowly gained prominence. It became widely known after two high-profile deaths of unarmed African-American men in 2014, where involved police officers were never indicted. Many other African-American deaths were followed since then. The movement continues to grow prominence with each new incident and protest. Now, BLM now describes itself as a “chapter-based national organization working for the validity of black life.”
Throughout the years, the movement has included several involving the black community, from black women and LGBT communities to undocumented black people and black people with disabilities. The recent worldwide protests demanding racial justice occurred one day after what would have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, an African American emergency medical technician. She was killed by police officers in her home in Louisville, Kentucky after they forcibly entered the wrong apartment while executing a warrant.
These racially motivated killings fueled protesters’ rage and sparked conversations about the need to dismantle white supremacy, defund police departments, and toughen laws about race-related crimes. Many African-American parents have even brought their children to these protests as they face a parenting dilemma.
“I want them to be strong and independent, and know how to express themselves clearly. I want them to move through the world confidently, and not have any fear about what they believe. But they also need to understand the reality of life, and how sometimes, they have to be aware that interacting with the police means they have to think twice about what they say,” said Vondell McKinley, a father to a 12-year-old boy.
Online Presence of the BLM Movement
The BLM movement arising in the public consciousness has been shaped by public opinion through the power of social media. According to The New York Times, an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership, public opinion on race and criminal justice issues has been steadily moving left since the first protests ignited over the fatal shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
A recent poll conducted by Monmouth University revealed that 76% of Americans consider racism and discrimination a “big problem”—an increase of 26% from 2015. About 57% of the respondents thought the anger behind the demonstrations was fully justified, while 21% called it somewhat justified. It has also shown that the majority of Americans believe that the police are more likely to use deadly force against African-Americans.
Another survey conducted by the Democracy Fund’s UCLA/Nationscape found a significant increase in unfavorable views of the police and in the belief that African-Americans face a lot of discrimination. Recent polling also suggests that their views of police and the current protests against police brutality are changing offline as millions of people show online support for the movement.
According to CNN, an American news-based pay television channel owned by AT&T's WarnerMedia, a recent Pew Research Center analysis revealed that the #BlackLivesMatter was tweeted 8.8 million times three days after Floyd’s death. For the next two weeks, the hashtag was tweeted nearly 3.7 million times per day. These numbers are far larger than any point in the movement’s history.
In comparison, the #BlackLivesMatter peaked in summer 2016—the same summer that saw the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, who were both fatally shot by police in Louisiana and Minnesota respectively. Previous reports showed that the hashtag was mentioned around 500,000 times daily.
The protests surrounding the BLM movement have been vocal about wanting policies changed for the black community. In 2016, activists released more than 40 policy recommendations, including the demilitarization of law enforcement, reparation laws, the unionization of unregulated industries, and the decriminalization of drugs. While some of these efforts have had some success, it wouldn’t move forward if people still ignore racial inequality.
The BLM movement was built through thousands of racially motivated deaths as well as the hope that one day, racial justice will finally be given to us.