Building a Black Future: The Movement for Black Lives and the New Civil Rights Movement
Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives has reinvigorated the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement for a new generation of activists and organizers calling for justice. Since 2012, more young Black people are calling for justice for victims of police violence and brutality and an end to the racist system that devalues Black lives in America. Prosecutors have been removed, police departments put under federal review, and municipal policies have been changed. This movement has been led by mostly women, youth, and LGBTQ people and created a national network whose work is felt all over the globe. Where do we go from here? With all this momentum what does the future hold for the Movement for Black Lives?
In order to answer these questions, I want to add historical context and social texture to the victories the movement is winning, its struggles, and its trajectory moving forward. In order to understand the victories of the current movement it is necessary to look at the nation as whole and the impact that Black Lives Matter and other groups are having on the growth of the New Civil Rights movement and why that is significant for Black people in the United States. Since the 1960’s there has been a systemic program by the United States government to weaken Black led social movements through various forms of espionage and coercion. The most notable of these was the Counterintelligence Program (conintelpro) which led to the downfall of the Black Panthers and the assassination of many of its leaders. After the late 1970’s there were few Black Power organizations left and even fewer prominent Black leaders willing to stand up against systemic oppression. Since that time the government has pushed the War on Drugs and the War on Gangs in inner city communities as a way to control and silence the restless Black population. 57% of people incarcerated in state prisons for drug related offenses are either Black or Latino even though studies confirm that these groups commit the crime at similar rates to their white counterparts.
It is within this backdrop that the Movement for Black lives has reasserted itself and begun to recruit young powerful Black voices to the cause of justice. For the first time since the 1960’s we have seen sustained civil unrest in regards to police brutality and police conduct towards the Black population in the United States. During the period of 1960 to about 1973 there were no less than 30 urban rebellions against police brutality and misconduct including the now infamous Watts Riots in Los Angeles which lasted nearly a week. The sheer number of individuals who have become politically active through the rise of Black Lives Matter and its affiliated organizations exemplifies the growing scope of the movement. One of the great victories of this movement is the shift in leadership and a level of inclusion for the LGBTQ people inside of the Black community. Black Lives Matter was started by 3 Black women 2 of whom are queer, and this is a huge shift from the largely male centered Black Power Movement of the the 1960’s and 70’s. Not only are we seeing more uplifting of the work of Black women, but also of Black LGBTQ people who were by and large ignored or even ostracized in earlier forms. The massification of the movement and shift in leadership has allowed for other victories such as the addition of police body/dash cams (cameras that police officers wear as part of their uniform in order to monitor misconduct) in many states which come directly out of the social movement demanding more accountability from officers for their uses of force. While demands for policies mandating police officers wear these cameras had existed before, it wasn’t until the current intensification of the movement that it has been implemented. Currently both the Los Angeles Police Department and the New York Police Department, the two largest and historically most abusive policing agencies in the country, will be implementing citywide use of these cameras by this summer.
While these strides have many feeling hopeful about the trajectory of the movement, it is universally understood that we have a long way to go. Not only must we fight the continued violence by the state, but in the wake of the movement’s success there has been a backlash by the state and individuals seeking to undo our work and shake our resolve. One of the most egregious things that’s happened since the rise of the Movement for Black Lives was the racially motivated murder of 9 Black people at the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina. A white man came into a Black house of worship and killed all but one person because Blacks “had to go”. Attacking Black southern churches, which were used as meeting places for the movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s, is a fear tactic meant to intimidate the Black community into silence about their oppression. Though this was one man acting alone it represents the racist hostility aimed at Black folks for standing up to the state by attempting to sow the same kind of fear used in the past.
It is not only individuals who are striking back against the New Civil Rights Movement, the state is also coming down hard on organizers and activists. Just this month Jasmine Richards was the first Black person charged with felony lynching for trying to get another activist out of police custody. The charge had historically been created to protect Black people in police custody from white lynch mobs. It is nearly unfathomable that a law designed to protect Black people from lynch mobs would be used against a Black woman for trying to protect someone from the police. In order to make an example out of one the movement’s most tenacious leaders, the Pasadena City Prosecutor brought these charges against her, and Jasmine was tried and convicted. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the BLM Pasadena and BLM Los Angeles chapters, she only faced a minimal sentence and was released. Jasmine’s arrest and conviction were meant to intimidate activists from directly confronting the police state.
Last year in July more than 1000 Black folks came together in Cleveland, representing organizations nationwide, to work closer together on a national platform to unify our work and strengthen our movement. That convening marked a national cooperation that continues to provide sustained leadership for organizations and individuals wishing to engage in the Black Liberation advanced by Black Lives Matters and its affiliated organizations. Within the next few months a National Platform is expected to be made public to solidify the goals of this movement, and to make clear our objectives. This new platform marks a significant shift in the movement in that prior to this point the New Civil Rights movement has been different groups working in tandem to achieve local goals. With a national platform we will be able to take on a broader range of issues, and we will be able to address issues on a national scale rather than working city by city and state by state as is the practice now.
As the movement begins to move forward in this direction it gives those of us involved a unique opportunity to reimagine what our communities can look like beyond issues of police brutality. We can start asking ourselves what does community safety look like absent violent police presence? What do schools look like when funds are reallocated from policing our youth and funneled into programs for the arts? What does it mean to provided proper health services for a population that has been neglected by the state for so long? How do we protect the rights and lives of Black LGBTQ people knowing the history in our own community? Out of the movement against state sponsored violence we are being offered an opportunity to reimagine what Black America could be. Black Lives Matter has opened a door for us to reclaim our communities, our dignity, and our lives. However, we understand that this is something that must be fought and won before it can become a reality. While BLM has opened the door it is for the Black populace of America to step into the future and shape it into something brighter.
written by Ronald Collins (Solidarity Correspondent, ISC)
[Note: The viewpoint expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the International Strategy Center.]