June 7, 2016

The Black Lives Matter Movement Matters

Theo Deitz-Green ‘19
There comes a time when a people can no longer tolerate injustice; when they must unite to stand up and and fight for its end.
The Black community has suffered centuries of systemic social, economic and political
oppression. After a series of videos came out showing police officers shooting unarmed black
men, seemingly with undue cause, a group of young activists joined together to form the Black
Lives Matter movement.
Black Lives Matter initially spawned out of anger that George Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. The movement rapidly began to
expand, leading protests in the aftermath of the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and of
Freddie Grey in Ferguson, Missouri.
The organization has created a lot of controversy, especially due to its name, “Black Lives Matter.”
Many think that the name “Black Lives Matter” is in and of itself problematic and believe that it should be changed to “All Lives Matter”; however, the name, which comes from a hashtag tweeted after the acquittal of Zimmerman, has come to represent the fact that many black people feel that their lives simply aren’t worth as much as white lives in America.
To respond to someone saying “black lives matter” with “all lives matter” is missing the point. In America, no one is questioning the value of white lives. White people don’t have to walk down the street afraid that they might be stopped by police for looking suspicious. White parents don’t have to talk to their children about how to handle themselves in dealing with police officers.
These are realities that black people have to live with in America and to dismiss the legitimate concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement by saying “all lives matter” is to spare one’s self of having to deal with the difficulties of reality in America, to hide behind a wall of words.
Of course members of the Black Lives Matter movement think that all lives matter, but the question in America is not about the value of a white life. They believe that American society is rigged against black people.
The fact is that, in America, black people are disproportionately pulled over while driving, fined and arrested. For example, an FBI investigation of the Ferguson Police Department found that while 67 percent of the population of Ferguson is black, 85 percent of the people pulled over by police between 2012 and 2014 were black, 88 percent of the cases involving police use of force involved black people and 93 percent of the people arrested were black.
Nationally, the disparities are just as troubling. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, black people are incarcerated at “nearly six times the rate of whites.” In addition, about “five times as many whites are using drugs as African
Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of
whites.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has done an extraordinary job of bringing much-needed attention to these issues. In fact, they, along with other black rights activist groups, have pushed the issues of institutional racism and criminal justice into the 2016 presidential race.
Members of the group have been interrupting campaign events, protesting and meeting with candidates to press them as to how exactly the candidates plan on dealing with the issues facing black Americans today. The activists have been very persistent in asking for specific details and not just vague promises because they believe that it is easy to make promises during the campaign but that real action needs to be taken.
Black Lives Matter has been very successful in bringing attention to these issues, especially in the Democratic primary race. Following protests and meeting with activists, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have made racial equality central parts of their campaigns, both backing criminal justice reform.
While there is still a long way to go until true and complete justice for black Americans is
reached, it is comforting and inspiring to see the power and influence people can have when they
come together to stand up and demand change, when they stand up and say “yes, black lives do

matter.”

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