Black Lives Matter: Origins And Controversy

"Black Lives Matter" was the brainchild of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. BLM was first conceived during the days following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. As reported by the Guardian, Alicia was checking her cell phone, almost constantly, while waiting for a verdict in a local bar. She was hit especially hard by the loss of Trayvon and what she felt was as an absence of justice for Trayvon and blacks in general.

"I felt incredibly vulnerable, incredibly exposed and incredibly enraged. Seeing these black people leaving the bar, and it was like we couldn't look at each other. We were carrying this burden around with us every day: of racism and white supremacy. It was a verdict that said: black people are not safe in America."
Black Lives Matter slowly took shape over the course of the following year, and the three women teamed up to set up social media accounts under the name and start planning. When Michael Brown was shot, the movement grew wings.

Black Lives Matter is familiar, but many do not understand the movement. They say, of course, black lives matter. Every life matters, but that is the wrong answer and is considered racist to even say. "All lives matter" is an opposing movement, supposedly, and a racial slur now. That is puzzling to most people not entrenched in the movement. How can white people relate now if we must not only agree that black lives matter but also agree our own lives are immaterial? Alicia Garza explains this in some detail on her article for Feminist Wire.

"Black Lives Matter doesn't mean your life isn't important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. When Black people get free, everybody gets free... We're not saying Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways. We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined."

Black Lives Matter protesters lie down in the street in protest.
Black Lives Matter protesters lie down in the street in protest. [Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]

The Occupy Movement stated the problem as the one percent of politicians, corporations, and billionaires that control everything. And while it is true most of those people are white, poor whites have no more choice, freedom, or upward mobility than poor blacks, do they? If one is not part of the one percent or at least the top 25 to 33 percent, how is their life easier than that of a black person who makes the same wages and lives in the same neighborhood? Alicia Garza says it is different, and that African Americans are deprived of basic human rights and dignity. Yes, that happens to others as well, and Garza understands that -- she just decided her cause was about blacks.

"When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. It is an acknowledgment Black poverty and genocide is state violence. It is an acknowledgment that 1 million Black people are locked in cages in this country–one half of all people in prisons or jails–is an act of state violence... Black folks living with disabilities and different abilities bear the burden of state-sponsored Darwinian experiments that attempt to squeeze us into boxes of normality defined by White supremacy is state violence. And the fact is that the lives of Black people—not ALL people—exist within these conditions is consequence of state violence."

Memorial wall for Black Lives Matter by David McNew
Memorial wall for Black Lives Matter [Image via David McNew]

Taking on Black Lives Matter, the Washington Post discusses Alicia's point at length. One point is that of the 965 individuals fatally shot by police in 2015, only 90 were unarmed. Further, less than 4 percent of all fatal police shootings involve a white officer shooting an unarmed African American. However, many of their conclusions agree with Alicia's statements about police killings being disproportional to populations.

Black Lives Matter, according to the Washington Post, could be misinformed about police shootings, and they went to great pains to either prove or disprove their statistics. They compiled a record of each and every fatal police shooting in 2015. No other government agency or journalistic corporation has ever done this. Their discoveries were very surprising, even to them.

Of all police shootings, 40 percent were black men, and this is worth noting and agrees with the BLM complaint. Still, if only 4 percent were unarmed and shot by a white officer, then what of the rest? It is also worth noting that 243 of the nearly 1,000 people killed by police had mental health problems, and of those, nine out of 10 were armed. It is also worth noting that 42 police officers were killed during the same year.

Black Lives Matter data has more detailed listings that disagree with the Washington Post. Mapping The Violence lists 102 unarmed blacks killed by officers in 2015. How can this be? There is a difference of 12 people. Reports of police violence do not all go into one database, and so often every case is not reported to a central source. Further, details can be misunderstood or construed in different ways. Then it becomes difficult to ascertain totals. Mapping the Violence has photos of and articles about nearly all the victims, so it would be hard to contest their numbers.

When Black Lives Matter representatives speak, though, it is not just about statistics. Human emotion and a sense of injustice are keys to their concerns. Statistically speaking, death by cop is not a significant cause of death, but homicide certainly is. Therefore, logical thinking leads us to question why the CDC lists homicide as the leading cause of death for black males aged 15 to 34. It is the second leading cause of death for black males aged 10 to 14. The percentages are absolutely astounding. It is a statistical fact that people rarely kill outside of race, so the majority of murders are blacks killing blacks. PolitiFact states that in the 513 days following Trayvon Martin's death, 11,106 African Americans were murdered by other blacks.

Black lives matter, and they obviously do, to everyone, so the fact that 50 percent of all African-American male deaths aged 15 to 24 are murders becomes very important. Those numbers also explain why police are having to deal within the African-American community so much more than whites. For comparison, only 8 percent of white males in that age category are murdered, according to the CDC, so police investigating murders, attempted murders, and serious assaults, see blacks far more often in their work than whites. Murder also causes police to be more on guard than less serious situations. Murder is still considered the most serious crime in the U.S. Police have to do something about it. It is their job to. It also could explain why there are a disproportional number of African American men in jail if it is true that people are killed within their own race.

Black Lives Matter, rather than skirt this issue, should embrace it and seek solutions. Research needs to be done to discover why this is happening. Obviously, economics plays a factor, and relieving economic pressure would likely improve nearly every situation, including this one. Living conditions and poverty may play a role, but are there other factors that also need to be addressed in the prevention of black on black homicide?

Black Lives Matter seems to consider it politically incorrect to mention black-on-black murders, but many other blacks feel this is the problem that needs to be addressed.

Black Live Matter has also been blamed for an escalation of violence against police officers. Whether this is fair or not, it is being said by police officers of both colors. In addition, the interruption of political rallies of both parties has been loud, extreme, and occasionally violent. Protesters have perhaps been more aggressive than usual recently, in Chicago for example. The Washington Post quotes Rev. Andrew Young, a high-ranking Martin Luther King aide, who offered some sage advice to young protesters. Young served as a U.S. congressman, United Nations ambassador, and Atlanta mayor.

"White supremacy is a sickness, You don't get angry with sick people; you work to heal the system. If you get angry, it is contagious, and you end up acting as bad as the perpetrators."

Black Lives Matter is learning that people like protests until they are seriously inconvenienced or unfairly insulted by them, but the right to protest is part of what makes America great.

[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]