By Ranya Merchant – Talon Correspondent
A recent rash of Black American deaths at the hands of police are re-fueling the Black Lives Matter Movement and creating much-needed change.
On May 25 George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was arrested in Minneapolis Minnesota for suspected use of counterfeit money at a local convenience store. Shortly after his arrest, George Floyd was pinned to the ground by three officers and murdered with no rightful reason.
Just a few months prior to his death, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, both black, were also killed by police. In response to these deaths, hundreds of protests around the world have been drawing attention to the police abuses against African-Americans.
Black Lives Matter, a slogan and hashtag coined several years ago, has once again begun to trend globally on social media.
“Seven years ago, people thought that Black Lives Matter was a radical idea,” said Alicia Garza, a founder of the Movement of Black Lives, an organization that fights racism. “And yet Black Lives Matter is now a household name and it’s something being discussed across kitchen tables all over the world,” she added.
Social Media has played a large role in supporting the movement through various trending posts and hashtags with involvement from celebrities. One Instagram challenge called “Blackout Tuesday” involved thousands of posts and profile pictures of black squares. This was in an effort to show solidarity for the lost lives. But some argue that it had no real effect and even took away from the enormity of the situation.
“That’s another problem with social media because sometimes the meaning — although it’s well-intentioned — the meaning can be lost,” said Claire Tandoh, founder of the Charlotte youth social justice group Kidz Fed Up. “Because Black Lives Matter is not a trend, and that is what these chains and the challenges like the blackout posts can become,” she added.
Tracey Benson, a UNC Charlotte professor of Education believes that “Blackout Tuesday” was useless. “I see the posts, and I’m like, ‘All right, wishes or prayers aren’t going to fix racism in America,” he said.
Despite this, Rachel Einwohner, a sociology professor at Purdue University thinks social media can reach a large audience. “What’s so interesting and so meaningful about social media and social “ movements is just how quickly people can mobilize through social media,” she said.
“In a moment where black folks are getting killed, just this simple sentiment that black lives matter was important,” said Mark Neal, a professor of African American studies at Duke University.
“Traditionally, people of color in our society have felt that our political institutions do not represent them, for obvious reasons,” Einwohner said. “When we have social media, people can have a voice”, she added.
As the Black Lives Matter movement has grown, some protests have turned violent. Entire neighborhoods and buildings have been destroyed by rioters.
“I think that there is a place in America for peaceful protest, and we know that peaceful protests have had a history of changing things in this country, “said Keisha Lance Bottoms, the Democratic mayor of Atlanta. “But it has to be organized and it has to be for a purpose. And when you have violent eruptions like we’ve seen across America, then we lose sight of even what we are talking about,” she added.
After a series of violent protests in Atlanta, Georgia, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, said, “What I see happening on the streets of Atlanta is not Atlanta. This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. This is Chaos.”
Meanwhile, others see looting as a form of empowerment as it serves to reclaim dignity after decades of abuse at the hands of the police and government.
“When you have the ability to gain some of that power back, people take the opportunity to do so,” said Rashawn Ray, a sociologist at the University of Maryland.
Darnell Hunt, Dean of Social Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that the looting was not harmful to small businesses, “protesters are not indiscriminately burning things. They seem to be more focused on chain stores, like Target, or specific cultural icons that represent a system people feel has not served them.”
Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the original Black Lives Matter organization said protest should not be the main focus of activism. “Protest is simply one form of making change, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we do. We can also change legislation and policy,” she said.
Garza said she hopes the current momentum carries the movement forward without tempering it. “We can go one of two ways,” she said. “The ‘law and order’ route or the route where we make black lives matter because we all want them to matter. And have access to the things we deserve, and peace and justice in our communities,” she said.