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Black Lives Matter Is Not Over, Despite Social Media Trends
After the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, the white neighborhood watchman who shot 17-year old Trayvon Martin to death, three Black leaders founded the activist movement we refer to as Black Lives Matter. While this movement has grassroots dating back to 2013, it garnered the greatest amount of media attention over the course of 2020, following the murder of 46-year-old Black man George Floyd. Come June, social media feeds were flooded with story infographics, black squares, and NY Times articles; meanwhile, the streets were clumped with protestors of all ages, backgrounds, and demographics– fighting for Black equality and an end to police brutality.
This period was one of the greatest catalysts for change Black Americans have seen in the last decade. Not only did it spark protests across the globe, but it also led to the passage of significant legislation targeted at defunding state police departments and reallocating the money towards jobs, education, and social services. It also led to the very recent establishment of Juneteenth— a holiday celebrated on June 19th signifying the end of slavery in the United States, thanks to the 1865 Emancipation Proclamation– as a federal holiday.
Nevertheless, researchers are continuing to discover that widespread advocacy towards the Black Lives Matter movement has dwindled since its rapid spike last year.
According to Civiqs tracking data, American support for the movement has reportedly begun to decrease throughout 2021 by more than 6%, compared to its peak in June 2020. While approximately 53% of Americans claimed their support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the previous year, the number dropped to 47% when reported in May 2021, with 12% more Americans stating that they oppose the Black Lives Matter movement.
This phenomenon is predicted to continue over the remaining course of the year. And yet, the Black Lives Matter movement is far from over. In many ways, it has just begun. Why wait for the next brutal death to reinvoke our widespread social activism?
Never Ending Cycle of Death and Reform
America has witnessed many historical periods of rapid protest following civil rights casualties.
In July 2014, police officers accused Black man Eric Gardner of selling cigarettes on the street; in a matter of seconds, he was pulled to the ground, placed in a chokehold, and left gasping for air 11 times before he was pronounced dead. In November 2014, 12-year-old boy Tamir Rice was playing with his toy gun in Cleveland Ohio; after receiving an anonymous phone call of a potential (mistaken) threat, police rushed to the scene and shot Rice within two seconds. In April 2015, Baltimore police officers arrested 25-year-old Freddy Gray, who was accused of having a switchblade; after being brutally dragged into a police car for further detainment, Gray died a week later due to severe spinal injuries suffered during police custody. In February 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was jogging outside of his home when he began being pursued by two white men in a truck; suspected of being a neighborhood burglar, Arbery was followed, shot, and killed on sight. In March 2020, the apartment of 26-year-old emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor was raided by three police officers looking for drugs; the police ultimately fired 32 shots, six of which struck and killed Taylor in her own home.
The names in this list are merely a handful of the millions of Black Americans that have died at the hands of racism and police brutality. The limitless supply of names, many of which go unreported, only continues to grow with each consecutive day.
The point is, American history, even still in the last decade, is haunted by a growing list of victim names. While each one sparks a new wave of demonstrations across the country– protesting against the discriminatory system allowing injustice to occur– the fight must continue regardless of incentivized protests. Even when news feeds aren’t consumed with the latest tragic death, even when #BLM is no longer trending on social media, Black Lives Matter is a movement that must be supported regardless.
Racism Ingrained in America’s DNA
Slavery officially ended in the United States in 1865 with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to our Consitution, which prohibited the institution of slavery in all United States territories. Approaching 200 years later, slavery is abolished, but the legacy of bloodshed tainted on American soil persists nonetheless. Racism is ingrained in the DNA of this country.
One of the most obvious examples of racism in everyday society is embedded in the American education system. Ever since the Supreme Court’s 1896 decision in Plessy v Ferguson, which corroborated the idea of “separate but equal,” the education system has inherently disadvantaged African American minorities from ages as young as pre-school. In fact, federal data on discipline in schools found that while Black students make up a mere 18 percent of all preschoolers in the nation, they account for more than half of all out-of-school suspensions at this age. This is not because Black preschoolers are simply more disobedient. It is attributed to the racism embedded in American society, which leads authorities to be inherently more suspicious of a Black student in comparison to their equally disobedient white counterpart.
This exact phenomenon has led to the school-to-prison pipeline targeting minority students for minor infractions and funneling them into the criminal justice system. This cycle continues on across generations, and it leads to Black students being unfairly punished and trapped in the cycle of poverty.
“My eyes were opened by a young man I met who had spent 21 days in a juvenile detention center, basically for talking back in class,” states Kevin Gilbert, member of the NEA Executive Committee, on the school-to-prison pipeline. “As educators, we need to step back and look at our discipline structures. We need to make sure they’re going to help, not hurt students” (NEA).
When Black students are criminalized at such young ages, it prevents them from escaping generational poverty that has existed since the 19th century. And yet, resources like affirmative action, which are designed to help assist Black Americans by limiting certain systematic barriers they are faced with, are highly criticized for being “a cheat” to selective processes like college admissions and job applications. Instead, affirmative action should be seen as a resource to help promote higher education and increase employment opportunities amongst Black Americans, a privilege that has been denied from them for centuries.
With limited opportunities to escape perpetual poverty and a criminal justice system targeting Black Americans from a young age, the fight for racial equality extends beyond police reform. Black Lives Matter encompasses all waves of life.
Future For #BlackLivesMatter
Black Lives Matter is a civil rights cause that must continue to be championed. In our current day society, as political upheaval in DC, healthcare crises exacerbated by the pandemic, and foreign affairs in the Middle East continue to make headlines, many Americans may find themselves neglecting the battles being fought in their own country. This phenomenon ignores the millions of Black Americans fighting against systematic discrimination every day.
We must not wait for the death of the next Breonna Taylor, the next George Floyd, to reinvoke civil activism. Even when social media isn’t consumed with black squares and BLM hashtags, the fight for Black Lives Matter must never be stopped.