Controversial Topic: Black Lives Matter

Controversial Topic: Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter is a modern protest movement centered around civil rights causes impacting Black Americans, especially as they relate to police brutality, vigilante violence, and institutional inequality in the American legal system. Black Lives Matter is at once a multi-chapter organization with concentrated leadership and a decentralized global movement engaged in widespread activism.

The stated mission of Black Lives Matter is “to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.”

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According to the New York Times, the Black Lives Matter movement has generated widespread support—with some estimates identifying it as the largest protest movement in American history. However, it has also become a major flashpoint in American public discourse. There are those who oppose Black Lives Matter because of its prerogatives, goals, and/or methods. Views on the Black Lives Matter movement often divide sharply across political lines.

What is Black Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter refers to a global movement engaged in political and social action, as well as philanthropy, aimed at ending violence against Black Americans, particularly as a consequence of both individual and institutional racism. While the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, Inc. operates as a form of central leadership, groups and organizations carrying the Black Lives Matter banner operate independently throughout the world to advance the mission and goals of the broader movement.

The movement began as a Twitter hashtag—#blacklivesmatter—in reaction to the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as he walked unarmed through a neighborhood in Miami Gardens, Florida. Since that time, Black Lives Matter has become the most visible and influential force in confronting instances of vigilante and police violence against Black citizens and pushing for law enforcement and justice reforms to eliminate racially discriminatory laws, law enforcement practices, and jurisprudence.

What do supporters of Black Lives Matter believe?

Supporters of Black Lives Matter believe that the fight for Black Liberation and Freedom is ongoing, that institutional inequalities persist and that community-based organization, activism, protest, and philanthropy offer peaceful paths to advancing racial justice and equality. Black Lives Matter also recognizes the need to advocate for Black women as well as Black LGBTQ+ individuals. In the United States, supporters of Black Lives Matter typically lean to the left side of the political spectrum, and are more likely to align with the Democratic Party, or to identify as liberal or progressive.

What do opponents of Black Lives Matter believe?

Opponents of Black Lives Matter reject the Black Lives Matter movement for a number of reasons that may be based on either the prerogatives, goals, or methods of the Black Lives Matter movement. There are those who view the protest tactics employed by the Black Lives Matter movement as violent, subversive, and dangerous, and therefore reject the movement. Others argue that claims of inequality and devaluation of black lives are false or exaggerated, and will frequently counter the central cause of the movement by asserting that ”All Lives Matter.” Some oppose the Black Lives Matter movement for perceived connections to Marxist ideologies. Finally, there are those who oppose the goals of Black Lives Matter because they support white supremacist ideologies and advocate for continued or expanded racial inequality. Those who oppose the Black Lives Matter movement typically lean to the right of the American political spectrum, are more likely to identify as conservative, and are more likely affiliated with the Republican Party or the Alt Right.

A Brief History of Black Lives Matter

Trayvon Martin

In February 2012, a 17-year-old Black teenager named Trayvon Martin walked through the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood in Sanford, Florida wearing a hoodie and holding a pack of recently purchased skittles. He was returning to the home of his father’s fiancee, where they were both staying as guests. A 28-year-old neighborhood vigilante named George Zimmerman followed Martin, presumed him a threat to the safety of the neighborhood, and accosted him, ultimately shooting and killing him. In the resulting trial, Zimmerman was acquitted. This spawned the Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

Eric Garner and Michael Brown

The #blacklivesmatter hashtag rose to yet greater prominence when, in July of 2014, an NYPD officer using an illegal choke-hold killed 43-year-old Eric Garner. This was followed one month later by the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Heated protests erupted, and proliferated the Black Lives Matter hashtag to even greater visibility.

Activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi are frequently identified as the originators of the hashtag. They also had a direct hand in expanding and formalizing the Black Lives Matter movement by helping to open dozens of new local chapters in the years between 2014 and the 2016 presidential election. As Donald Trump sought the presidency with vocal support from a burgeoning “Alt Right” movement, the Black Lives Matter movement became an active voice for the opposition.

George Floyd

In May of 2020, a Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin murdered a 46-year-old Black man named George Floyd. The incident was a response to an intended arrest after a store clerk claimed Floyd had attempted to make a transaction with a counterfeit $20. During the ensuing altercation, the white police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for a reported 8 minutes and 46 seconds while onlookers filmed and pleaded with him to stop. Following Floyd’s death, protests against police brutality, especially toward black people, quickly spread across the United States and internationally, bringing the Black Lives Matter movement to yet greater prominence. The summer that followed Floyd’s murder saw America’s streets rippling with demonstration.

A Growing Movement

In fact, The New York Times reported in 2020 that about 15 million to 26 million people in the United States have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and others in recent weeks.

These figures render Black Lives Matter the single largest protest movement in American history. But these protests were met with resistance and confrontation as well, both at the hands of law enforcement and at the hands of alt-right, nationalist, and conservative groups and vigilantes.

This sometimes spilled into violent altercations between protestors and law enforcement, embodied by incidences such as the shooting death of two protestors by vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin; the establishment of a lawless “autonomous zone” in Portland, Oregon; and a highly-publicized incident in which then-president Donald Trump dispatched the National Guard with teargas to clear a pathway through protestors in order to make a public appearance in front of a District of Columbia church.

The Current State of Debate

Incidents such as the above highlight what has grown into a sharp dividing line in America’s perceived culture wars, with those to the left of the political spectrum showing broader support for the Black Lives Matter movement and those to the right broadly rejecting either its claims, its objectives, or both.

At the height of visibility for the Black Lives Matter movement, sympathy for George Floyd contributed to wider support for the movement’s aims. According to a Pew Research poll from the summer of 2020, 67% of Americans said that they supported the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. By September of that same year though, support had dropped among White and Hispanic Americans, leading to a 55% rate of support across the general population. While support for Black Lives Matter remains high across Black populations, it has held steady at this 55% rate across all races.

These figures also closely reflect a broader cultural, political, and ideological divide in America, that is perhaps best embodied in the strenuous public debate over such connected issues as Critical Race Theory.

Who Supports Black Lives Matter?

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the Top Black Lives Matter Influencers today:

  1. Patrisse Cullors is an American activist, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, artist and writer who created the #blacklivesmatter hashtag in 2013 and has written and spoken widely about the movement.
  2. Alicia Garza is an American civil rights activist and writer known for co-founding the international Black Lives Matter movement and who currently directs Special Projects at the National Domestic Workers Alliance and is the Principal at the Black Futures Lab.
  3. Ayọ Tometi is an American human rights activist, writer, strategist, and community organizer as well as a co-founder of Black Lives Matter.
  4. DeRay Mckesson is an American civil rights activist, podcaster, and former school administrator, as well as an early supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement who has been active in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland.
  5. Angie Thomas is an American young adult author, best known for writing The Hate U Give, an influential text exploring the issues embodied in the Black Lives Matter movement.
  6. Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old African-American from Miami Gardens, Florida, who was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman, a man who’s acquittal ultimately spawned the #blacklivesmatter hashtag.
  7. Johnetta Elzie is an American civil rights activist, as well as one of the leaders in the activist group We The Protesters.
  8. IO Tillett Wright is an American author, photographer, TV and podcast host, and activist who, at the age of 22, became a featured columnist for T Magazine, where he had two regular blogs.
  9. Shaun King is an American writer, civil rights activist, and co-founder of Real Justice PAC who uses social media to promote social justice causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement.
  10. Janaya Khan is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto as well as an international ambassador for the Black Lives Matter Network whose work analyzes intersectional topics including the Black Lives Matter movement, queer theory, Black feminism, and organized protest strategies.
  11. Samuel Sinyangwe is an American policy analyst, racial justice activist, a member of the Movement for Black Lives and a co-founder of We the Protestors.

Who Opposes Black Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter is opposed by a number of prominent figures in conservative American politics, law enforcement, and especially in the media. These figures use various public platforms to voice their objection to either the claims, goals, or methods of the Black Lives Matter movement. The figures identified here have been manually selected from our database based on their outspoken views against the Black Lives Matter cause:

  1. Heather Mac Donald is an American conservative political commentator, essayist, attorney, and author as well as a Thomas W. Smith Fellow of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of the institute’s City Journal.
  2. Blaire White is an American YouTuber and right-wing political commentator who has been critical of third-wave feminism, activists she views as social justice warriors, and activist movements such as Black Lives Matter.
  3. Tucker Carlson is an American paleoconservative television host and political commentator who has hosted the nightly political talk show Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News since 2016 and who has become a leading ideologue for conservative views including rejection of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  4. James Allsup is an American far-right political commentator, podcaster, and former YouTube personality who has been described as a white supremacist for his involvement in American neo-Nazi organizations but who self-identifies as an “American nationalist.”
  5. Lynne Patton is an American event planner and former Trump administration political appointee who was designated in June 2017 by President Donald Trump to head Region II (New York and New Jersey) of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  6. Matthew Heimbach is an American white nationalist and neo-Nazi who has tried to form alliances with other far-right groups.
  7. Tom Woods is an American author and libertarian commentator who is currently a senior fellow at the Mises Institute as well as a proponent of the Austrian School of Economics.

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Black Lives Matter

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books published on the topic of Black Lives Matter in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. This list is composed largely of texts either exploring themes connected to the Black Lives Matter movement, providing historical context for the movement, or advocating for its causes. No influential literature opposing Black Lives Matter emerged in our search:

  1. The Hate U Give
  2. On the Come Up
  3. Children of Blood and Bone
  4. I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street
  5. Sing, Unburied, Sing
  6. Salvage the Bones
  7. Gender Trouble
  8. Girl, Woman, Other
  9. George (novel)
  10. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Key Groups in the Black Lives Matter Debate

Supporters of Black Lives Matter:

Opponents of Black Lives Matter:

For more hot-button issues, check out The Most Controversial Topics Today.

And if you’re interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the issues of race, gender, law, and intersectionality:

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