How ‘Black Lives Matter’ Grew From A Movement To The Subject Of Federal Surveillance

Black Lives Matter was born out of the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of a self-appointed neighborhood watchman. Over time, Black Lives Matter would grow with the death of another young black man, Michael Brown, who died after an altercation with a uniformed police officer. Today, what started out as a social media hashtag, has morphed into a movement of thousands, gaining the attention of presidential candidates and the federal government.

During its growing pains, Black Lives Matter has not been without its critics, who claim that Black Lives Matter is divisive and hypocritical for failing to address the deaths of black men by other black men, which outnumber the deaths by law enforcement.

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But with its critics, Black Lives Matter has a growing support base including comedian Margaret Cho who uses the Black Lives Matter hashtag on social media.

Now that Black Lives Matter has organized itself, it has gained greater visibility as a cohesive group when they interrupted Phoenix’s Netroots Nation Conference where Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders were speaking. The candidates didn’t fare well with the Black Lives Matter group, forcing an apology from O’Malley and a second attempt to curry favor by Sanders, who spoke at a recent meeting in Louisiana, according to MSNBC.

“Black lives do matter, and we must value black lives. Anybody who saw the recent Sandra Bland tape understands that tragically, racism is alive and well in America. I don’t think anybody believes that a middle-class white woman would have been yanked out of her car, thrown on the ground, assaulted and then ended up jail because she made a minor traffic violation.”

Aside from a few retorts from the Republican base, including Jeb Bush’s scoff at O’Malley’s apology and Ken Cucinnelli’s offense at the movement‘s implication, Black Lives Matter has not been able to gain ground among the GOP. While Fox News reports Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors is still seeking an opportunity with a Republican audience, the Black Lives Matter movement has, however, gained the attention of a very interested third party – the federal government.

According to a recent report by The Intercept, Black Lives Matter has been under federal surveillance following Ferguson’s rash of riots and violent protests. Utilizing the Freedom of Information Act, The Intercept was able to obtain documents detailing the months-long surveillance by the Department of Homeland Security. The Black Lives Matter surveillance documents were reminiscent of the FBI’s COINTELPRO days of Black Panther Party surveillance, producing “minute-by-minute reports on protestors’ movements in demonstrations.”

Federal surveillance of African-American organizations is not new. The Department of Justice archives include surveillance of groups including the KKK and the NAACP, and maintained files on Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. In a conversation with The Intercept, activist Maurice Mitchell identified surveillance as a federal fear tactic.

“When the police are videotaping you at a protest or pulling you over because you’re a well known activist — all of these techniques are designed to create a chilling effect on people’s organizing. This is no different.”

Ironically, Black Lives Matter hosted over 1,000 attendees at its first organized convention at Cleveland State University this weekend, according to Essence. Seeking to gain enough momentum to impact the 2016 election, Black Lives Matter has made enough of an impact on the federal anti-terrorism agency’s top brass who continue to “monitor the situation,” which is what Black Lives Matter wants, a spotlight on the issue of black lives.


[Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images]