What is the Black Lives Matter Movement?
The Black Lives Matter movement is, “a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.” (Black Lives Matter , n.d.) Recently, The Black Lives Matter movement has received a juxtaposition of responses on the conduct and validity of their movement from the public within the last few years. As a relatively new group of activists, Black Lives Matter has grown exponentially in the media especially, due to the immense amount of police brutality and racial disparities that have been taking place within the United States. The Black Lives Matter organization was founded in 2012 in response to the death of Trayvon Martin who was a 17 year old African American man. (Black Lives Matter , n.d.) It is believed by many, that Trayvon was murdered by George Zimmerman due to racially motivated reasons, which caused many Americans to be outraged when Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges for the murder of Trayvon. (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013) This is what eventually put the founding of Black lives Matter into motion. (Black Lives Matter , n.d.)
Minnesota Nice As Long As You’re White
The Twin Cities has been heavily regarded as one of the top metro areas to live in for my generation, the millennials. For example, we currently have 17 out of 500, Fortune 500 Companies in our flourishing business district. (University of Minnesota , 2015) In addition, the Twin Cities made the Huffington Post’s “Top 10 America Cities” list. (University of Minnesota , 2015) We were also named best “Sports town,” by Sports Illustrated, to name a few of our numerous accolades. (University of Minnesota , 2015) As a Minnesotan, I am incredibly proud to live in the Twin Cities.
However, even though the Twin Cities boasts an impressive resume of national awards, one thing that we are not proud of is the escalating racial climate within the metro area. These issues never seem to receive the same attention as Adrian Peterson’s rushing record, or when we make another Buzzfeed list for having the best food on a stick. With that said, it came as a huge surprise to me that the Twin Cities were one of the highest ranked areas for racial disparities in the country! (Guo, 2015) In fact, people of color who are residents of the Twin Cities have a higher chance of living in poverty, are more likely to not graduate from high school, are less likely to be home owners, and are more likely to be diagnosed with a chronic illness. (Wilder Research, 2016)
As a student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul Minnesota, I have seen first-hand the issues of racial tension unfolding within the Twin Cities, some of which have taken place on our own campus. In fact, this past semester Allen Scarsella, a graduate of the University of St. Thomas, was charged with, “five separate felony counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon — one for each victim shot. He’s also charged with one count of second-degree riot.” (Kare 11 Staff, 2015) He is facing these charges due to the shooting that occurred at the Minneapolis Fourth Precinct where 5 Black Lives Matter protesters were shot during a protest in response to the shooting of Jamar Clark. (MPR News Staff, 2015) Clark was an African American man who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police while handcuffed early last November. (Nelson, 2015)
Leading by Example
The shooting of Jamar Clark and the shooting of 5 Black lives Matter protesters by white supremacists elucidates that Minneapolis is growing as a turbulent ground for racially motivated violence. This makes me wonder how the Black Lives Matter organization is handling these issues that are putting their own chapter members in danger, which in turn is one of the biggest controversies surrounding the Black Lives Matter group nationally. The best way to analyze their strategy for addressing racial injustice is to first look at who is leading their organization.
With that said, the fact that one of the white supremacists charged in the fourth precinct shooting is a former Tommie, is actually quite ironic. This is because nationally, every Black Lives Matter organization has a chapter in every city they are located. In Minneapolis, the leader of the Minneapolis Black Lives Matter is University of St. Thomas professor of Law, Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds. (Levy-Pounds, 2016) Dr. Levey-Pounds is also a very decorated attorney, and the elected President of the NAACP of Minneapolis. (Levy-Pounds, 2016) Although Dr. Levy-Pounds is an advocate for racial justice in the North, she was raised in the impoverished section of South Las Angeles. (Pioneer Press, 2015)
This is where she had her first experiences with racial injustice, that acted as a precursor to her life as a Civil Rights Attorney and prominent activist for racial justice. (Pioneer Press, 2015) One of the most influential experiences that shaped Levy-Pounds as an activist took place in 1991, when her fifteen year old friend Latasha Harkins was fatally shot by a local grocer that claims he saw her shop lifting at his store. (Pioneer Press, 2015) These events transpired during the same time the police beating of Rodney King was going viral across the country. (Pioneer Press, 2015) Little did Dr. Levy-Pounds know, that half a decade later she would be leading groups of activists in Minneapolis in opposition to racially motivated violence that closely parallels the death of Rodney King.
The best way to illustrate Dr. Levy-Pounds’ leadership style would be to loosely compare her to the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. The foot soldiers of the movement were the activists at the front lines. (French, 2014) They were the demonstrators who were beaten on Bloody Sunday in Selma, or who faced the water hoses and police dogs. (French, 2014) Looking at racial justice from a 21st century perspective, the advocacy that Levy-Pounds is leading puts her at the front lines as well. In fact, she has been arrested numerous times at Black lives Matter’s demonstrations. For example, during the Interstate 94 protest that was also in response to the shooting of Jamar Clark, Levy-Pounds knelt before police much like they did during the Civil Rights Movement, and volunteered to be the first arrested. (President of NAACP Minneapolis Nekima Levy-Pounds is on her knees willing to be the 1st arrested , 2015)
Demonstrating Dissatisfaction or Dissatisfaction with Demonstrating?
One of the most controversial aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement is their demonstrations both locally in major Twin Cities locations and on the national scale with civil disobedience taking place at major events. The reason why they have caused so much controversy is due to the question of whether or not they are demonstrating at the appropriate time, at the right place and in the right way.
Minnesota State Fair
One of the first major demonstrations that Black Lives Matter Minneapolis chapter preformed, was at the Minnesota State Fair this past summer. In Minnesota, the state fair is about as big as the Super Bowl with crowds reaching over 200,000 in attendance daily! (Minnesota State Fair) In other words, if you want to get a message across to an exceptionally large amount of Minnesotans, the State Fair is the place to do it. The demonstration was in response to the death of Michael Brown, which caused subsequent riots in Ferguson, Missouri. (Nelson & Zdechlik , 2015) The group of 325 protesters from Black lives Matter chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “No justice, no peace,” both of which have become synonymous with the riots in Ferguson. (Nelson & Zdechlik , 2015)
According to Rashad Turner, a member of Black Lives Matter: Minneapolis, the main goal of the protest was to, “bring wider awareness of racial disparities, poverty and police community relations.” (Nelson & Zdechlik , 2015) In addition, the group also wanted to call to attention to their belief that all members of law enforcement should be required to wear body cameras as a way to hold them responsible for their actions. (Nelson & Zdechlik , 2015) They were also publicly addressing the death of Marcus Golden, which took place last January when he was killed by an armed police officer in St. Paul. (Nelson & Zdechlik , 2015)
The controversy surrounding this particular demonstration, is the venue and the audience associated with the State Fair. For example, many of the booths at the State Fair are run by people from Rural Minnesota who work in agriculture and rely on the State Fair as an avenue to do business. (Nelson & Zdechlik , 2015) In turn, the protest was hindering the lively hood of some agricultural workers who have a very small window of opportunity within the summer and fall months to do their seasonal work. In addition, the State Fair is also a very family oriented event. Therefore, it is questionable whether or not the Fair was a suitable venue to be protesting in front of small children at a family event.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
Another major protest that Black Lives Matter: Minneapolis preformed took place at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport during the height of the holiday travel season this past Christmas. This protest was also in response to the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by an armed police officer. (BBC News, 2015) This protest was very controversial because it completely shut down the Humphrey Terminal, which in turn caused several people to miss their flights. (Garvin & Stanglin, 2015) In addition, this protest had several hundred participants who blocked the main freeway that led to the airport. (Garvin & Stanglin, 2015) This freeway caused traffic to become incredibly backed up during one of the most hectic travel days of the entire year. (Garvin & Stanglin, 2015)
There were 15 arrests made, but no injuries and no property damage were associated with this protest. However, although the Black lives Matter movement had an important message to share in response to the death of Jamar Clark, the question is whether this was the way they should have shared the message. Many people were angry with the protesters due to their expensive missed flights during the holidays. Thus, it can be assumed that people will be less likely to positively respond to the Black Lives Matter movement, if they are the unfortunate recipients of the consequences associated with their protests.
The issue of time, place and approach to the demonstration is not just an issue with the Black lives Matter Minneapolis chapter. When we take a step back and look at the movement from a national perspective, there have been subsequent controversies associated with Black Lives Matter demonstrations. For example, at a Bernie Sanders rally last August in Seattle, Bernie was forced to step aside as two members of the Black Lives Matter movement took over the stage, which consequently left Bernie unable to give his speech. (Associated Press, 2015)
The reason behind their demonstration at the Sanders Rally was to speak about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Sanders is one of the top candidates to receive votes from the African American community especially, because of his extensive advocacy work during the Civil Rights Movement. (Associated Press, 2015) Therefore, the protesters chose an audience that would most likely support their pursuit for racial equality. However, the way that they went about calling attention to the death of Michael Brown is questionable because it hindered Sander’s chance to speak to his supporters.
Critiques from the Original Activists
Some of the criticism towards the Black lives Matter movement is originating from members of the original Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. The baby boomer generation that started the non-violent trend of civil disobedience feels compelled to advocate for the Black lives Matter movement, but they are apprehensive of the tactics that are being used to advocate for racial justice. (Reynolds, 2015) When you look at the Civil Rights Movement as a whole, the three common denominators which are known to have propelled the movement are: the role of the church, nonviolent civil disobedience and the extensive participation of young people. (Hedin, 2015)
This is important to note because what is missing from the Black Lives Matter movement is the role of the church. For example, the closest predecessors to the Black Lives Matter movement is the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that was a student led organization during the Civil Rights Movement. (Halberstam, 1998) They contrast the Black lives Matter Movement because the leaders of SNCC and other activist groups during the Movement were the heads of the black church. (Reynolds, 2015) They also had to adhere to a strict dress code where the activists were required to dress as if they were attending mass. In addition, Reverend James Lawson, a close friend of Martin Luther King, put SNCC members through extensive non-violent workshops that taught them how to act during turbulent demonstrations. (York, 2000)
A Call to Reform?
In a recent interview, one of the key members of SNCC, John Lewis shared that he believes there is a torch being passed to my generation of millennials. (White, 2015) This torch can either be accepted and we can continue to fight for racial justice, or we can ignore this opportunity and let the work of our predecessors in the Movement end in abeyance. However, I think we need to raise the question of how the millennial generation can be expected to responsibly take part in civil disobedience when some of us are never taught the historical foundations of the Civil Rights Movement?
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which was co-founded by a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement-Julian Bond, Minnesota received an F in 2011 on their teaching of the movement and in 2014, we received a D. (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012) It can be assumed, that this grade could be attributed to the fact that there are no standards in K-12 education to study the Civil Rights Movement.
I commend the Black lives Matter movement in Minneapolis for the advocacy that they are doing. However, I believe that the way they are going about this advocacy is actually a call to reform our education system. We are living in a very turbulent time because issues centered on race related violence that parallels the issues of the 1960’s are being reverberated currently in our society. I would argue that researching SNCC’s challenges and successes as a nonviolent organization will give students and activists such as Black Lives Matter: Minneapolis, a foundation on both perspectives of students who represented SNCC: the nonviolent perspective and those who challenged it.
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