A quick look around the internet and social media will demonstrate that the United States in 2016 is a nation divided. We have been polarized by ever more vocal special interest groups on both sides of virtually every debate in public life. Clinton or Trump? “Tea Party” or “Berniecrat?” Are you a “Bernie Bro,” or are you “with her?”
Perhaps no other discussion in America today has been more visceral and difficult to navigate than the issue of the Black Lives Matter movement. It has exposed long hidden skeletons and laid bare nascent prejudices on both sides, while attempting to shed light on a very real and very serious issue for law enforcement.
OpEd pieces show up daily demonstrating the biases and prejudices of each side of this debate, and they draw some of the most vitriolic comments from readers. But what exactly is Black Lives Matter? And who is helping it become a force within the public sphere?
Black Lives Matter, or BLM, arose to prominence in 2013 after the acquittal of a Florida man accused of the shooting death of an unarmed African American teenager. Since then, it has gone on to organize rallies across the country to demonstrate what it perceives to be a gross disregard for the lives of minorities on the part of law enforcement departments and the criminal justice system.
What began as a simple hashtag in social media, quickly evolved into a national organization with over thirty chapters around the nation. It has become a major voice of black frustration at the seeming indifference of authorities when it comes to officer-related fatalities. And in the process of drawing attention to cases that may have otherwise been overlooked by the media, it has also found significant support from a number of philanthropic foundations and businesses eager to identify their brands with social justice. The organization has raised millions of dollars from both private and public sources as its clout has continued to grow.
One major contributor is the the Ford Foundation who promised a donation of $100 million dollars. In a recent press release they said:
“We’ll provide long-term support to the Movement for Black Lives, so that these visionary leaders and organizations can continue to cultivate and maintain a movement of young black women and men who are pushing through established boundaries as they seek to realize the promise of equality and justice for all. That is what democracy needs to function—and it’s what the Movement for Black Lives is doing,”
However, there has also been a backlash to the BLM movement, notably among supporters of conservative politicians and law enforcement. Beginning with the responsive “#AllLivesMatter” and following the most recent Super Bowl halftime show featuring a not so subtle allusion by pop star Beyoncé, “#BlueLivesMatter”, these hashtags have become a symbol of pushback from what many people consider to be “traditional” viewpoints and perspectives.
The debate about whether or not African Americans are treated fairly by law enforcement and the criminal justice system has become murky as we have started to see anecdotal charges of interracial crime and high profile assaults on police officers. The shooting deaths of a pair of New York police officers last summer, and more recently, the massacre of four law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have raised the stakes to dangerous levels at a time when both sides should be listening to and working with each other.
Where do you stand on the issue of law enforcement and the criminal justice system in regards to its treatment of people within the African American community? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us here.