Black on Black Crime & BLM: The Message, The Movement, The Network

I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. Really. But sometimes it’s really hard when someone says “all lives matter” in response to “Black lives matter.”  It’s even more difficult when the response is “what about Black on Black crime?” from someone who really should know better (I’m talking to you Terry Crews). I’ve tried explaining that most crime is intra-racial. I’ve tried pointing out that Black on Black crime is, well, a crime, that is, unlike most police misconduct, actually punishable. I’ve even attempted to make clear that action on one issue doesn’t preclude action on another. None of that seems to work. At this point I’m tempted to assume anyone raising this spurious argument doesn’t actually care about Black on Black crime any more than they care about state sanctioned violence against Black people. However, being the patient soul that I am, I’m trying one last time.

If you are tempted to raise Black on Black crime as some sort of rebuttal to “Black lives matter,” you’ve missed the entire point.

Black lives matter originated as the Black Lives Matter Project in July 2013.  Community organizers Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi used the social media hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) as a messaging tool after the acquittal of George Zimmerman of murder for killing Trayvon Martin. The hashtag was a direct response, not to the killing, which took place year and a half earlier, but to the acquittal. Let’s be clear: Black lives matter was originally a message and it was directed at state sanctioned violence against Black people.

Black Live Matter, the movement, emerged in 2014 following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, both at the hands of law enforcement.  Both deaths sparked massive protest across the country and signs with “Black Lives Matter” were prominent. Khan-Cullors, Garza, and Tometi continued to use the phrase as an organizing tool, but it took on life of its own as protests mounted over the deaths of Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Mya Hall, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, all killed by law enforcement.  The phrase’s originators were firmly rooted in the Black liberation movement and continued (and continue) to organize in that tradition. However, the phrase they brought to prominence remained more limited than that tradition, focused squarely on state sanctioned violence against Black people.

Black Lives Matter, the network, developed along with the movement. As Patrisse Khan-Cullors explains:

In 2014, Mike Brown was murdered. I stayed up all night trying to figure out how to support the brave and courageous community of Ferguson and St. Louis as they were being brutalized by law enforcement, criticized by media, tear gassed, and pepper sprayed night after night…. When it was time for us to leave, inspired by our friends in Ferguson, organizers from 18 different cities went back home and developed Black Lives Matter (BLM) chapters in their communities and towns — broadening the political will and movement building reach catalyzed by the #BlackLivesMatter project and the work on the ground in Ferguson.

Although a national network, BLM is decentralized. It has a set of guiding principles which are put in practice based on local conditions. Network. Not organization.

And there you have it. Black Lives Matter is a message, a movement, and a network of local community organizations. Unfortunately, the three are no longer distinct in the minds of most people. When people say, “I don’t agree with Black lives matter” I assume they are talking about the network.  When people say, “all lives matter,” they don’t understand the original message. And when people ask, “what about Black on Black crime?” whether they are referring to the message or the movement, they are ignoring the fact that both are about state sanctioned violence.

I hope this helps. If not, I’m just going to assume the worst about you.



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