The issues of racism and police brutality have existed long before 2012, but it is the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by the neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman that sparked countrywide protests and a national debate about police violence toward black people. The controversy surrounding the shooting and the subsequent investigation led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Although the movement raises concerns beyond African-American communities, some people criticized it for being “anti-white and anti-police” (Mendoza par. 8).
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In this paper, I would like to examine the connection between a person’s ethnicity and the likelihood of their support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The hypothesis is that African-Americans are more likely to support and join the Black Lives Matter Movement because they feel they are treated unreasonably and want change. I will focus on the movement’s member base, its goals, and reactions to this social development to test the hypothesis. The available data that can be used to support the hypothesis includes human rights activists’ interviews, the official website of the movement, news articles, books, and polls.
Social movement scholars developed a set of concepts called framing theory to describe the way individuals, groups and societies react to and exchange information about the reality (Johnston and Noakes 5). The frame alignment perspective is based upon the concepts of frame and collective action frame. As Johnston and Noakes point out, frame defines a certain problem, the individuals or groups who are responsible for it and provides a solution to the problem or a call to action (6).
These three tasks are called diagnostic, prognostic and motivational (Johnston and Noakes 6). They are also attributed to collective action frames, which strategically explain the issues with the intention to call people to take action. Some element of injustice is often attributed to collective action frames. The element of injustice is an idea that something is wrong and should be changed. In the case of the Black Lives Matter Movement, this element was the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the broader idea that the state systematically targets African-American individuals and deprives them of their rights and dignity.
This element of injustice was supported by the following series of incidents where unarmed African-Americans were killed by the police. The government provided further evidence to this issue by the acquittal of the shooter George Zimmerman, who received other allegations of violence. Collective frames must be amplified, and in the case of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the amplification was achieved through social media and the use of a specific Twitter hashtag. The social media campaign attracted attention of the media, which further helped its amplification.
The state, the judiciary system and the police officers who go beyond their professional boundaries were pointed out as those responsible for the problem. The solution to this problem was protesting and raising awareness about the injustice and the oppression African-Americans face. The work of the participants goes beyond protesting, however.
Those behind the movement hosted national conference calls to address the acute issues ethnical minorities face (“A HerStory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement” par. 3). The supporters of the movement created a list of specific demands that should reduce the number of killings of African-Americans by the police and provide justice for all people regardless of their ethnicity. The supporters of the movement would address the current issues in the following ways:
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- by establishing transparent legal investigation of police shootings of African-American people;
- by the demilitarization of local police forces;
- by the creation and application of accountability measures for those police officers who overstep their professional boundaries (“11 Major Misconceptions About the Black Lives Matter Movement” par. 4).
Despite the positive message of equity and justice the supporters of the Black Lives Matter Movement spread, some prominent figures have criticized the movement’s goals. African-American US Navy veteran Peggy Hubbard posted videos in which she argued that the issue is not racial, but is about “accountability and responsibility” (Fredrikson par. 7). However, although the movement does focus on a particular ethical group of Black people, its message actually is “When Black people get free, everybody gets free” (“A HerStory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement” par. 12).
What this means is that when the discrimination against black people is eliminated, it benefits the society as a whole. The creators of the movement support all the oppressed groups, including transgender and gay people, handicapped, and women, and strives for the liberation of all oppressed groups. Supporting all oppressed groups means including African-American people, and it is appropriate to emphasize the role the Black liberation movement had for liberation of all people. Research demonstrated that the supporters of different historical social movements were united by their connection to their communities, and this connection was essential for recruiting new people to the movement and the movement’s success (Johnston and Noakes 4).
In other words, it is nothing new, the focus on African-Americans helped the movement get traction and succeed. African-Americans were more likely to support this movement because they are the group that experiences the oppression first hand. The studies support this point. In particular, Rasmussen Reports’ survey of 1,000 likely voters showed that 83 percent of African-American felt that Blacks and other minorities face discrimination (Witt par. 10). On the other hand, half of white voters thought “blacks and minorities get equal treatment” (Witt par. 10).
There is a difference of opinion on whether the between different ethical groups of whites and blacks, which is why the latter are more likely to support and join the Black Lives Matter Movement. One of the Black Lives Matter activists DeRay Mckesson explained that his personal experience with police violence prompted him to support and join the movement (“Breakfast Club interview: Black Lives Matter Activist DeRay Mckesson Talks Social Issues”). Similarly, other supporters of this movement are likely to face predisposition on racial grounds and thus, are likely to be a part of ethnic minority. In the case of the Black Lives Matter campaign, which targeted African-American people, it is likely that the majority of its member base is African-American.
The Black Lives Matter campaign attracted the media and the people’s attention to the important issues of racism and police brutality. These issues were largely unknown to those who do not belong to a specific discriminated group, which is why it was important to raise awareness and get the message that the lives of black people are just as valuable as the lives of others. This movement united all oppressed minorities, including gay, transgender, and people with disabilities in their goal to promote equality and justice.
11 Major Misconceptions About the Black Lives Matter Movement.
A HerStory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.
Breakfast Club interview: Black Lives Matter Activist DeRay Mckesson Talks Social Issues.
Fredrikson, Annika. Who is speaking out against Black Lives Matter? 2016.
Johnston, Hank and John, Noakes. Frames of Protest: Social Movements and the Framing Perspective, Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005. Print.
Mendoza, Jessica. Can Black Lives Matter and Police Lives Matter coexist? (+video). 2016.
Witt, Louise. Most American voters don’t think Black Lives Matter can ensure equal justice for all, poll shows. 2016.