One of the most prominent events that happened during the year 2020 was the protests against police brutality that drew attention to the Black Lives Matter Movement, or BLM. BLM is a movement that is dedicated to fighting racism and anti-Black violence globally (1). This movement was created by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi after George Zimmerman was acquitted on charges from unjustly killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. This movement rallies behind and demands justice for Black people who were unjustly killed, especially when a police officer is the murderer. BLM has held prominent protests across the United States and internationally.
There are hundreds of thousands names and stories of Black men, women, and children who had their lives taken away by violent racists. Whether it was in 1920 or 2019, Black people were and are more likely to be killed by the police than other races (2). The majority of these cases end without justice being served on behalf of the victims, and the perpetrator being able to live the rest of their life freely. This injustice is not something new, but it doesn’t make the situation any easier to accept, or the situation acceptable in any way. In the year 2020, though, something changed. Pleas for justice weren’t just shared online and in friend groups, but were brought to life through protests throughout the globe. With the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and especially George Floyd, came an uproar of the Black Lives Matter movement and an undeniable demand for justice.
On February 23rd 2020, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down and killed by three white men named Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan, the latter of which recorded and helped hunt down Arbery (3). The justice system turned a blind eye to this unjust death of a Black man. When the recording of his murder was released on the internet on May 5th, news of his death reached across the country as people and celebrities called for justice on social media platforms. On May 7th, those responsible for his death were arrested and charged for their crime. They were indicted in June by a grand jury in June and face life sentences without parole. Justice, it seemed, had been served. Ahmaud Arbery’s story is one of the few in which those responsible were punished for their crime. Social media soon forgot about Arbery, and waited for the next injustice to roll along.
Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old EMT amid the Covid-19 pandemic (4). On March 13th, three white police officers executed a no-knock-warrant, barged into her apartment in plain clothes, and shot her eight times. The justice system again turned a blind eye to the unjust death of a Black person, this time a woman. The three officers involved, Myles Cosgrove, Brett Hankinson, and Jonathan Mattingly, were placed on administrative reassignment until the investigation by the police department was completed (5). News of this story was splashed across everyone's social media pages, news bulletins, and media feeds as people and celebrities demanded justice. On June 11th, in her hometown of Louisville, ‘Breonna’s Law’ unanimously passed to ban no-knock warrants. On June 23rd, Hankinson was fired for violating procedure. On September 23rd, Hankinson was indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment, which have nothing to do with Breonna’s killing. Justice is not served or even an afterthought of those who allowed these officers to get out of jail time.
On May 25th, 46-year-old George Floyd’s neck was pinned under the knee of officer Derek Chauvin (6) as he was slowly murdered while his fellow officers Thomas Lane, J.A. Kueng, and Tou Thao watched. This death was the straw that broke the camel's back. With the previous deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the latter of which had still not received justice after over 70 days since her death, the country was still reeling. The public would not allow the justice system to turn a blind eye. The graphic video of Floyd’s murder ran rampant across various social media and news outlets, inciting rage and demands for the officers involved to be charged and arrested. On May 26th, the four officers involved were fired. On that same night, the first of many protests began in Minneapolis. On May 27th, demonstrations began in other cities across the country, such as Memphis and Los Angeles. In Minneapolis, on the same day, police officers use tear gas and rubber bullets on protestors. On May 29th, Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with Floyd’s death. Protests continued as days passed, curfews were instilled, and those protesting police brutality were met with violence by police officers. On June 3rd, the other three officers involved were charged regarding Floyd’s death. On the weekend before June 8th, all over the world from Germany to Poland (7), Seoul to Switzerland, London to Kenya, thousands took to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd. Thousands screamed “Black Lives Matter!” After months of advocacy, protests, and media coverage, Derek Chauvin posted a $1 million bond and was allowed to be released from jail as he waited for trial8.
The majority of protests advocating for George Floyd and all of the victims of police brutality were nondestructive and peaceful (9). The protestors called not only for justice for these three victims, but for other past victims of police brutality, such as Elijah McClain. While some of them were able to remain peaceful from start to end, others were met with extreme hostility and violence by police officers, such as the violin vigil for McClain10. All over social media outlets peaceful protestors were being attacked by the police for protesting against police brutality. These attacks include police using batons, pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas, and even police vehicles driving through crowds of protestors (11). There were also occasions of the police macing a child (12), a woman being forced to remove her hijab (13), and a woman being shoved to the ground forcefully and suffering a seizure afterwards (14).
Based on the hostility the police brought at these protests, one would believe most, if not all, of the protests were violent. A study on the protests following George Floyd’s death yielded results that oppose this thought (15). Approximately 7% of the racial justice protests that took place after the death of George Floyd were violent, which means 93 percent were nondestructive and peaceful. It was also found that “the use of force by authorities in some instances escalated tensions and increased the risks of violence.” Although it had been shown in the media that these protests were violent off the bat, this study helps to show the police were sometimes at the root of this violence.
The Black Lives Matter movement wants equality for Black people and to have basic human rights. Somehow, someway, supporting the movement has been contorted into a political matter that has led to a more severe polarization between Democrats and Republicans. As Democrats overwhelmingly supported this movement, the Trump campaign twisted this support to be interpreted as the party having “contempt for the police”16. Two popular phrases used by those to oppose BLM are “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter,” the latter referring to police officers. These countermovement groups are a bit hypocritical, though (17). If all lives matter, why are you protesting against Black Lives Matter, when they are advocating for the equality of Black people? In terms of Blue Lives Matter, this movement being pitted against Black Lives Matter is offensive, because while an officer can take off their uniform, a Black person can’t take off their identity.
The fight for Black lives is not a moment, but a movement. It is an ongoing fight to ensure safety and equality for Black people, as well as securing equity and justice. If we want to see a better world we must fight and encourage knowledge, love, and understanding, and stamp out hate, vindictiveness, and ignorance. This must be done at a systemic level, but we must start at home. We must start with our friends and family who seem all too comfortable with being in their bubble of ignorance. While it may be uncomfortable for those who don’t experience racism to learn about it, it is far more unbearable for those who have to live through it everyday. The BLM movement of 2020 was a wake-up call for a lot of Americans. It felt as though nothing would be the same or ‘go back to normal’ once these protests began. I can’t speak for others, but I have to say, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Black Lives Matter.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 Aug. 2020, www.britannica.com/topic/Black-Lives-Matter.
2. Mapping Police Violence, mappingpoliceviolence.org/.
3. Griffith, Janelle. “Ahmaud Arbery Shooting: A Timeline of the Case.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 5 June 2020, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/ahmaud-arbery-shooting-timeline-case-n1204306.
4. Jori AyersJori Ayers is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily based in Tampa, and Jori Ayers. “Here Is A Timeline Of Police Brutality in 2020.” Grit Daily News, 17 Sept. 2020, gritdaily.com/here-is-a-timeline-of-police-brutality-in-2020/.
5. ABC News, ABC News Network, abcnews.go.com/US/timeline-inside-investigation-breonna-taylors-killing-aftermath/story?id =71217247.
6. ABC News, ABC News Network, abcnews.go.com/US/timeline-impact-george-floyds-death-minneapolis/story?id=70999322. 7: Taylor, Alan. “Images From a Worldwide Protest Movement.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 8 June 2020, www.theatlantic.com/photo/2020/06/images-worldwide-protest-movement/612811/.
8. The New York Times. “What We Know About the Death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Sept. 2020, www.nytimes.com/article/george-floyd.html.
9. Kaur, Harmeet. “About 93% of Racial Justice Protests in the US Have Been Peaceful, a New Report Finds.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 Sept. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/09/04/us/blm-protests-peaceful-report-trnd/index.html.
10. Al Jazeera. “Police Chief Defends Crackdown at Elijah McClain Violin Vigil.” US & Canada | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 1 July 2020, www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/7/1/police-chief-defends-crackdown-at-elijah-mcclain-violin- vigil.
11. Cohen, Li. “Video Shows NYPD Vehicles Driving into Protesters in Brooklyn.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 31 May 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/video-shows-nypd-vehicles-driving-into-protesters-in-brooklyn-202 0-05-31/.
12. Golden, Hallie. “Outrage at Video Showing Child Who Was Maced by Police at Seattle Protest.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 June 2020, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/15/outrage-video-police-mace-child-seattle-protest.
13. Wong, Wilson. “Muslim Woman Arrested in Miami Protest Forced to Remove Hijab for Booking Photo.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 19 June 2020, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/muslim-woman-arrested-miami-protest-forced-remove-hij ab-booking-photo-n1231607.
14. Person. “Brooklyn Protests: Video Shows NYPD Officer Shoving Woman to Ground.” ABC7 New York, WABC-TV, 30 May 2020, abc7ny.com/brooklyn-protests-officer-shoves-woman-protest-arrests-george-floyd/6221538/. 15: Author: Roudabeh KishiRoudabeh Kishi is the Director of Research & Innovation at ACLED. She oversees the quality, et al. “Demonstrations & Political Violence in America: New Data for Summer 2020.” ACLED, 8 Oct. 2020, acleddata.com/2020/09/03/demonstrations-political-violence-in-america-new-data-for-summ er-2020/.
16. Linskey, Annie. “Democratic Convention Embraces Black Lives Matter.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Aug. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/democratic-convention-embraces-black-lives-matter/2020 /08/18/f1de2ce8-e0f7-11ea-b69b-64f7b0477ed4_story.html.
17. -, Ryan Williams, et al. “Why the ‘All’ and ‘Blue’ Lives Matter Arguments Are Invalid and Wrong - BUnow - Bloomsburg.” BUnow, 13 June 2020, bunow.com/why-the-all-and-blue-lives-matter-arguments-are-invalid-and-wrong/.