By Indonesia Omega ’21
During a CNN Tonight broadcast, Don Lemon stated “There's two viruses killing Americans: COVID-19 and Racism.” Black Lives Matter protests have been held in every state across the nation with protesters from just about every background. They’ve all come to protest the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. With these three tragedies being so closely timed, a large wave of anger, frustration, and desperation has crashed over the country. The New York Times reports that in the first two weeks of June, “American voters’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased almost as much as it had in the preceding two years.”
Even in the age of COVID-19, people continue to protest against police brutality. Demonstrators of all races, ages, and socio-economic status refuse to be stopped. Despite being beaten by police with batons, sprayed with mace, and shot with rubber bullets, they continue to show up day after day. They show up not only for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, but for every victim of police brutality. Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner. Protests have caught on not only in America, but around the world, stretching from Canada to Australia. But why only now has the Black Lives Matter Movement caught the world’s eye?
“I think it’s a combination of many things,” says Cassidy Scott, Nightingale ’21. “I think for the most part everyone was very fed up, and now had the time and passion to protest. Social media was also the best form of communication during this pandemic….our new generation also has the largest number of activists….all of those factors sparked what I think is a revolution.” Teenagers have been on the front lines of these protests, even organizing some of them themselves. Eric Guli, Shoreham Wading River High School ’21, describes a Black Lives Matter Protest in Long Island, attended mostly by young people. “It was successful. They walked down in front of the shopping center along 25A and had at least 100 people there, I’d say. The only downside was since they were on the side of the main road, there were cars driving by being obnoxious.” Still, Guli says that despite some passersby yelling profanities and “flipping off protesters,” the group held strong. “A lot of the older aged people don’t see why everything is happening. And so the younger age groups are taking absolute control.”
Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in his neighborhood in Georgia on February 23rd when he was murdered. On March 13th, Breonna Taylor was murdered in Kentucky after police broke into her home and shot her eight times. On May 25th, George Floyd was murdered in Minnesota after a police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes while he was handcuffed on the ground. All were unarmed. In 2019, data of all police killings in the country compiled by Mapping Police Violence found that Black Americans were nearly three times more likely to die from police than White Americans. George Floyd’s murder was captured on video and quickly went viral, angering thousands, which became a tipping point in the Black Lives Matter Movement. Even though media coverage has slowed, protests and marches continue showing no signs of stopping. Fire, passion, and sheer determination has kept this movement on its feet with steady results.
Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault in the case of Ahmaud Arbery. Former officer Derek Chauvin, who was recorded with his knee over George Floyd’s neck, has been charged with second-degree murder. The three other former officers who arrested Mr. Floyd have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. The officer involved in the murder of Breonna Taylor has been fired, but he has yet to face criminal charges as demanded by protesters. The protests for all three of these murders have not gone unnoticed by officials. The chokehold that murdered George Floyd has been banned in more than 20 cities, and that number continues to increase. Congress has introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which aims to combat police misconduct, excessive force, racial bias in policing, and hold officers guilty of misconduct accountable. On the same day Democrats introduced this Bill into the House, President Trump tweeted: “LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE. The Radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!” Isaac Rosenthal, Bard Early Highschool Manhattan ’23, thinks that it’s this type of reaction that has fueled the rise in protests. “I think it probably has to do with all of [us] being angry….and I also think that Trump only put gas on the fire. The American public is fed up.”
But Trump’s rhetoric and threats of military violence have seemed to only make protesters more passionate. Around the U.S., demonstrators have toppled or vandalized multiple Confederate and slavery-linked monuments. Some have even been lawfully taken down by officials. Calls to defund the police have not fallen on deaf ears. $1 billion of the NYPD’s $6 billion yearly budget has been shifted to other agencies, including youth and social service programming. But, beyond policy, a shift in culture has occurred as well.
The Black Lives Matter Movement has reignited conversations around race, forcing industries, organizations, and celebrities to address institutional racism and their past controversial actions. Celebrities like Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Ant and Dec have all recently apologized for using blackface in the past. Some celebrities have chosen to take a step forward towards equality by stepping down from their positions. Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit, stepped down from the company's board of directors, urging the company to fill his position with a Black candidate. Jenny Slate, who voiced a mixed character on ‘Big Mouth’ has announced she would be stepping down from her role as well. In an Instagram post, she stated, “Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people,” and that by taking on the role of a Black woman, she would be “engaging in an act of erasure of Black people.” In light of the nationwide call for police reform, the TV show “Cops” was canceled by Paramount Network after 32 seasons.
Media has played a significant role in the Black Lives Matter Movement, allowing Gen Z and Millenials to take the reins, whether that be by spreading information on social media or conversing with their peers. But what about those who didn’t take action? “I think it's unsettling just how many of my white peers seemed so oblivious to issues that were directly affecting people around them,” says Elizabeth Lokoyi, Nightingale ’21. “On one hand you had people, staying basically silent on the subject, proceeding to post a black square then returning to posting beach and breakfast pics.” Lokoyi refers to the #BlackoutTuesday “trend” in which social media users post a black square with the hashtag to show their support for the Black Lives Matter Movement. The trend has received criticism for erasing the voices of those calling for a constructive and meaningful response to police brutality, replacing them with black squares. Lokoyi continues, “This was probably the most abhorrent behavior I witnessed because it's like they genuinely believed that what they were doing was enough. On the other hand, I received multiple “reaching out” and “making sure I was doing ok” texts, or maybe even a direct apology for their inaction. I usually appreciated the effort but felt pressured to forgive and appease their own white guilt. But there are people who are seemingly invested. I think at the bottom of my heart I know that there's a part of those people who will protest and rally, but at the end of the day, this will not affect them. And I don’t know, call it trust issues, but their easy escape route makes me wary of their support in general.”
White support for the Black Lives Matter movement is uniquely high, with The Pew Research Center finding that 60% of Whites support the protests against police violence. White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, is a New York Times Bestseller that continues to sell out as White-Americans become more eager to educate themselves. So why do so many question the validity of this sudden wave of allyship? “The sign that change is real as opposed to symbolic is that people are making real changes to things close to them in their own backyards…. There can't be real change until White people are willing to give up some power and resources where they live,” Matthew Delmont, author of Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation, said to CNN. “Broadly speaking, White Americans and other people with socio-economic status have to be willing to give up something to have a more just and equitable society.”