Updated: Sep 14, 2020
The outcry of “enough is enough” rattled the world after George Floyd was brutally killed by the Minneapolis Police Department on 25th May 2020. Although the Black Lives Matter Protest has been in place for the past few years, this recent unfortunate event gave it a thrust to continue the momentum with new vigour. The protest which has at the time of its commencement focused on the issue of police misconduct gradually began to address the larger question of social inequity. The article attempts to analyse the journey of the Black Lives Matter protest which started as nothing but a twitter trend and has lately evolved into one of the most widespread mass movements globally.
Timeline of the Protests
The inception of the campaign of Black Lives Matter can be traced to 2013 after the white murderer of a 17 year old black teen, Trayvon Martin, walked free in Florida. The campaign started as a twitter trend by three black women namely, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, and slowly grounded its foundation by organising various peaceful as well as violent protests. In 2014, a Black Lives Matter ‘Freedom Ride’ was organised by the co-founders to encourage the local involvement into the matter and disseminate the campaign into a more localised network.
The following year witnessed the inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the campaign by highlighting the injustices faced by black transgender women. The movement started gaining momentum along with people’s support. This triggered a more focused organisation of the movement which aimed at remedying various injustices faced by black people such as police indifference and brutality and putting an end to the ‘systemic racism’. A strategized effort has been made to identify and condemn the techniques of racialized policing techniques such as “predictive policing”, the extreme force of surveillance, stop-and-frisk, etc. These protests have occurred not only in the United States but in various other countries as well.
The involvement of various celebrities and sports stars further thrust the movement in the right direction. For instance, San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to honour the national anthem as a symbol of defiance against the treatment of African-Americans in the United States or the inaugural speech by the NBA stars during the 2016 ESPY Awards in favour of Black Lives Matter Campaign managed to grab the attention of their fans throughout the world.
Despite the growing momentum of the organisation, several black people lost their lives at the hands of the US police. To revive the cause, Black Lives Matter conducted not only the rallies and protests but also various art exhibitions to honour the work done by the black artists throughout the years.
Response by the United States Government
The United States has been a host to the evil of racial discrimination since the colonial era. With the passage of time, this has evolved into systemic racism where the inequality in access to power, opportunities, and policy benefits have led to the stronghold formation and spread of the concepts of ‘white supremacy’. This continues to happen despite the federal law explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s national origin, race, sex, etc.
The protests across states have witnessed varied reactions from the governments and individuals alike. While some governments have taken a positive approach to the policies enumerated in the protests and have tried to inculcate them in the legislations, many places have seen a more strict and rigorous form of policing attempt taken by the governments in order to disperse the protestors.
The occurrence of Black Lives Matter protests in those areas has been more frequent where the police had killed the black people more frequently. This has created a never-ending cycle where the police take extreme measures to curb and disband the ongoing protests. Instances have been seen throughout the United States, where the police have resorted to usage of extreme measures such as excessive force, firing pepper rounds, use of tear gas and smoke bombs, the beating of protestors, etc.
On the other hand, to counteract the practice of structural racism, some governments have now started taking measures to ensure racial equity. With the upcoming elections, many states have enacted legislation as a political move as well as a response to the widespread protest. For instance, the city of Iowa passed the Black Lives Matter and Systemic Racism Resolution (June 2020) on 16th June 2020 after the murder of George Floyd on 25th May 2020. Under the resolution, the city, among other things, provided funds to promote racial equity, and an ad hoc Truth & Reconciliation Commission has been created to achieve restorative justice.
Breach of Human Rights: Disregarding the treaties and conventions
Though the protests originated in the United States, the problem of structural racism has never been regional in nature. Various international organisations have explicitly exhibited their support in response to the cause of these protestors. The United Nations issued a statement condemning the practise of systemic racism and police brutality which are being faced by black people. This can be seen in the light of Article 1 of the UN Charter which explicitly condemns any discrimination on the basis of race, sex, language, or religion. Any such discrimination is a direct attack on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people.
The civil rights movement in the United States has been crucial in the enactment of the International Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discriminations (ICERD) which in its entirety condemns racial discrimination by the state parties. Article 4 of ICERD prohibits theories and ideologies of concepts such as white supremacy. Similarly, Article 2 and Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides equal human rights to all beings and their equal protection before the law without any discrimination on the basis of their race. International Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement expressly state that the police shall not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, colour, national origin, etc. and priority has to be given to non-violent methods without any excuses for use of unlawful use of force.
Apart from these, the Amnesty Organisation had also expressed its support in favour of the Black Lives Matter by documenting various human rights violations by the police officers against the protestors, journalists, and other observers. In its empirical report about systemic racism and policing, the advisory recommendations have been made to make reforms to protect black lives and their right to peaceful protests and to review the federal laws of policing in the states.
Obstacles faced by the Black Lives Movement
Black Lives Matter as a campaign had started with a just cause and without any political vendetta or governmental backing. This has been a point of criticism at many junctures since the movement has avoided mainstream electoral politics and has focussed on achieving its demands through protests and social movements. However, its steadily rising popularity and participation have led to a representation of its demands within the political and policy circle of the states as well.
The forceful, and often violent, the backlash from the police has also been an obstacle for the smooth journey of the movement. Instances have been seen where the police have confronted unarmed protestors with military-grade weapons. Many activists and organisations have advocated for stronger federal laws regarding the handling of weaponry by law enforcement. This will ensure that the various human rights, such as the right to live in a safe environment, freedom of peaceful protests and right to life, of the protesters as well as the black victims can be protected.
With its long-standing history of slavery and racial diversity, it is not a shocking event that the United States has been a host to social injustices such as racial discrimination. However, it has been 243 years since its independence and it is high time that the states take responsibility for their actions irrespective of its historical standing. The protest which had initially started as a campaign to raise awareness about the existence of racial discrimination has achieved a lot more in the social and political spheres. One of the major milestones has been its influence in ensuring justice to the victims and their family members and the fact that it has steadily managed to persuade the authorities to take prompt action in favour of justice. The protesters have gained the attention of not only the government of the United States but several other nations as well. However, the fight of these good Samaritans is far from over since many people have continued to resist the cause. Despite several issues along its way, the Black Lives Matter campaign has achieved to become one of the most successful movements in the US History and has continued to grow in its momentum, especially after the killing of George Floyd. It has gathered the attention of the world to a problem which has for a long time violated the human rights of a large population of the globe and has on its wake to resolve the issue, and has been continuously working to unite the blacks and whites for the cause alike.
Title Image Source: ABC News
This article has been written by Kanishka Iyer who is a third year law student at Gujarat National Law University. Kanishka is a staunch believer of equity over equality and of objectivity over generality. The rights of downtrodden, especially women, have always stirred a string within her .