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  • Writer's pictureAlexssa Takeda

Black Lives Matter: A Local Movement with a Global Impact

Following a police shooting in June, protestors in San Diego expressed their discontent. (Craig Marolf/Unsplash)

With the outrage triggered by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of systemic racism, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has risen to a national scale and has become a major topic with the potential to greatly impact the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

The Movement

Black Lives Matter is an activist movement aiming to expose police brutality and racially motivated violence against black people. It began as a hashtag on Twitter in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager that was unarmed when he was shot in 2013.

With each incident, such as the deaths of Eric Garner or Michael Brown, the movement gained more and more traction. It eventually became internationally known. However, the BLM movement has recently made headlines worldwide with the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, who suffocated when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for 7 minutes and 46 seconds. Mr. Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

Worldwide Impact

While the BLM movement originated in the U.S, it garnered international support in protests and demonstrations in over 60 countries. An estimated 15 to 26 million people have participated in these demonstrations, marking them as the largest protests in the United States. Despite the coronavirus restrictions, cities such as Portland have been subject to over 100 straight days of protesting. In many cases, police have used chemical irritants such as pepper spray or tear gas to deter crowds when they claimed peaceful protesting turned into rioting.

Thousands of BLM protesters marched down the streets in Tokyo chanting, “No Justice, no peace,” and holding signs which read, “Racism is the real pandemic.” They held another protest through Shibuya Ward in response to the mistreatment of Tokyo police against a Kurdish man.

To avoid police and abide by health regulations, over 300 activists in Bangkok gathered in a Zoom call while wearing George Floyd’s words, “I Can’t Breathe” across their arms and held a moment of silence in solidarity with the U.S. protests.

During this time, countless U.S. monuments and memorials associated with racial injustice have been removed. On June 18, protesters tore down, burned, and defaced the statue of former president George Washington in Portland after Thomas Jefferson’s statue was removed on June 13. Both Founding Fathers owned hundreds of slaves. The statues were also spray-painted with “1619,” referring to the year slaves were first brought to the United States.

Although the organization advocates for nonviolent civil disobedience, there have been a few protests that have escalated from peaceful demonstrations to looting, rioting, and violence from both sides. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, 17-year-old Trump devotee Kyle Rittenhouse shot three BLM protesters, killing two. In another incident, a man of a right-wing group was shot and killed in Portland. The gunman, who was an Antifa supporter, was later killed by police during his arrest. On yet another occasion, a far-left protester in Denver, Colorado recently killed a counter-protester activist due to their opposing views.

Aside from the protests, many companies have publicly shown their support towards the movement and minorities who are affected by police brutality. Large brands such as Apple, Uber, Amazon, and Microsoft have stepped up. Grubhub CEO Matt Maloney shared a public letter on Twitter: “Grubhub will stand up, speak out and come together to take actions that bring enduring change, and show that we stand with all communities.” Grubhub went on to donate one million dollars to the Equal Justice Initiative.

But the movement has experienced its fair share of criticism.

The slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” which was created to bring attention to systemic racism, sprung immediate controversy. Many received it as black lives matter more than other lives. All Lives Matter advocates argue that everyone is human and should be given the same consideration, not only black communities.

Others have argued that the movement promotes violence against police officers, referring to chants such as “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” at the Minnesota State Fair. Sergeant Demetrick Pennie from the Dallas Police Department filed a lawsuit in 2016 against the BLM movement, accusing them of encouraging a “race war.”

In Portland, thousands of people protested police brutality, sparked by the death of George Floyd. Similar protests erupted across the nation and spread internationally. (Tito Texidor III/Unsplash)

2020 Presidential Candidates Respond

Both President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden made efforts to gain the support of Black voters, taking vastly different stances on the Black Lives Matter movement and racial justice.

On July 1, about one month after the death of Floyd, Donald Trump tweeted that the BLM movement was a “symbol of hate” after the slogan was painted on a street in front of Trump Tower.

Since then, he has criticized protests because they were becoming “domestic acts of terror.” Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, claimed, “Black Lives Matter and Antifa sprang into action and, in a flash, they hijacked the peaceful protest into vicious, brutal riots.” He also praised law enforcement for doing their best to keep cities safe.

On June 14, Trump signed an executive order urging for police reform and increased funding because he explained, “in many cases local law enforcement is underfunded, understaffed and under [supported].” The order aims to create a database to share between law enforcement agencies which track incidents of excessive force in the police, advise agencies on developing programs where police are accompanied by mental health experts, and would look at an agency’s training practices, including de-escalation techniques and their use of force.

Trump then received backlash for scheduling a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Juneteenth, which celebrates the official emancipation of slaves in the U.S. Many claimed it was insensitive, especially because Tulsa was the site of the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the most horrific mass murders of Black Americans.

But the President’s 2020 reelection campaign also started a program called “Black Voices for Trump.” At his rally in Atlanta, Georgia, Trump highlighted his “Platinum Plan” which would work toward diversity training, economic development, loan money, and declaring Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Joe Biden seems to show support towards the movement by allowing George Floyd’s brothers and Eric Garner’s mother to speak on the first night of the Democratic National Convention. He was heavily criticized by activists for not supporting the defunding of police forces and for not taking a more aggressive approach.

One of the BLM movement’s goals is to redirect money and specific police responsibilities to other services to prevent an abuse of power. Biden instead proposed to add $300 million to community policing programs. Many activists saw this as a setback that would undo their efforts towards systemic change. Biden later clarified his position during the first presidential debate on September 30, saying, “I’m totally opposed to defunding the police officers” but, “they need more assistance.”

His campaign also led nationwide digital voter registration events on National Black Voter Day, with his target being the swing states. These states include North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Texas, all of which hold a sizable population that has the potential to heavily aid the former Vice President in the election.

Influencing the Election

Demonstrators in Washington, DC protested in front of the White House. Many supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement criticized President Trump's response. (Koshu Kunii/Unsplash)

Although the movement itself isn’t tied to a specific political party, there is a likely chance it will heavily influence the election. According to research conducted by Northeastern University based on the 2016 election, those who had concerns about police brutality against people of color were more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton, a Democratic candidate. Voters who had support for the police force were more likely to side with Republican candidate Donald Trump. Based on the national polls, which indicated that BLM had won the side of 61 percent of voters, it suggests that Biden may have an advantage. But due to the protests and violence from both sides, support seemed to drop to 52 percent.

As of October 13, the Morning Consult published survey results indicating that 87 percent of black voters would be more inclined to vote for Biden compared to the 8 percent for Trump. This may correlate to how Pew found that over three-in-five Americans say the message Trump has been delivering in response to demonstrations in protest of George Floyd’s death is wrong.

While polls are looking favorable for the Democratic nominee, much can change before the November 3 election.


The Movement

Worldwide Impact

2020 Presidential Candidates Response

Influencing the Election


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