On the 26th of February 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. The trial and subsequent media circus that would surround this case would highlight the volatile race relations in America. But the #BlackLivesMatter response by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi would spark the beginning of a global movement.
The trial was torn apart on both sides. From those who believed Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defence and those who believed that he was guilty of murder. There were calls that stated the police department did not handle the case properly, that Zimmerman was, in fact, a racist and that he was racially profiling Martin, his bond was set too low and then too high, dismissals of legal teams, and a Change.org petition that gathered 2.3 million signatures. The case went back and forth, however on July 13th, 2013, an all-female jury found George Zimmerman ‘not guilty of second-degree murder’.
In a crowded bar in Oakland, Alicia Garza sat with her husband and a few friends as they watched Zimmerman be acquitted for the killing of Martin. She has stated that the bar went quiet, many had expected a sentencing for manslaughter, but not a full acquittal. She remembers scrolling through her Facebook page and seeing people comment on the verdict; some were pleased, many shocked and yet there were those who were not surprised. Garza herself was sad and angry. She voiced her opinion on her Facebook page, writing what she describes as a “love letter to black folks”. She ended it with “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter“. Little did Garza know that her heartfelt worlds would resonate with millions of people and form the start of a worldwide cause.
Patrisse Cullors had also been watching Facebook for news of the Zimmerman/Martin trial. She, like many others, was also shocked by the outcome of the Zimmerman trial and like Garza, went to Facebook to voice her reaction. She was so moved by what Garza had written, commented with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. This lead to a discussion between the two activists about forming a #blacklivesmatters campaign. They brought in Opal Tometi, who was the executive director of an immigration-rights group Black Alliance for Just Immigration, based in New York. As a fellow activist and was also very “tech-savvy”. From there they started to plan the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Together they created Facebook a Twitter accounts and began engaging with their social media followers by encouraging people to share their own experiences or opinions with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. They made posters spelling out ‘B L A C K L I V E S M A T T E R’, placing them in local businesses and spreading the word. The Black Lives Matter movement continued to grow, with more and more people following the movement on social media, celebrities getting involved, local and national news highlighting their progress. The movement continued to expand.
On Saturday 9th of August 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. This was a pivotal moment in the Black Lives Matter movement. Brown’s death ignited the full force of the black community, who saw how the judicial system had failed them time and time again. People were angry that another black man had lost his life, and tired with the systematic approach of neglect, allowing their killers to walk away with little consequence.
Next Week I’m going to be examining Michael Brown’s death as the catalyst of the Black Lives Matter movement, with relation to the power of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media!