In the wake of the decision not to indict a New York police officer in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after a chokehold restraint, a fresh wave of protests has been set off around the country.
Last week, during widespread protests of the grand jury decision in St. Louis, one phrase showed up on protest signs all over the country, and got lots of play on social media: Black Lives Matter.
It started as a conversation on Facebook between two friends: two black women in two different cities, Oakland and Los Angeles. It was July 2013. Alicia Garza had been watching television, waiting for the verdict to come down in the trial of George Zimmerman. He was found not guilty of killing black teen Trayvon Martin, who had been on the way back home from the corner store when Zimmerman shot and killed him.
“I posted on Facebook in that moment that it wasn’t OK for us to not be surprised that someone could not be held accountable for the murder of an unarmed black teenager,” Garza told me. “And you do actually matter, and we’re not garbage, and we’re not trash, and we’re not small. We’re powerful and resilient and brilliant beyond measure. I think the note was something like, ‘Black people, I love you, I love us, we got us, and our lives matter.’ ”
Garza’s friend, Patrisse Cullors, wrote back, adding a hashtag to the three words that stood out the most. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” was born and picked up. It appeared sporadically on social media, where people were using it to talk about incidents of racism.
And then Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson.
Garza said, “Black people all over the country were like, ‘We gotta go there.’,” to Ferguson.
Under the slogan #BlackLivesMatter, Cullors organized hundreds of people from all over the country to travel to Ferguson and join in the protests.
Garza says at that point, #BlackLivesMatter became a part of the larger social and political movement that was developing.
“This is the first time in a long time…where people are really talking about race in this country,” she said. “We’re cracking open this whole thing about policing, and how it happens, and how it works.”
Last week, when the St Louis grand jury announced that it would not indict Wilson, #BlackLivesMatter became one of the most prominent hashtags related to Ferguson. That day, it was mentioned more than 150,000 times on Twitter.
And now, just a week and a half later, #BlackLivesMatter is springing up again. It was on signs during yesterday’s protests surrounding the Eric Garner decision in New York.