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‘Black Lives Matter’ is the Most Important Social Justice Movement of Our Time

Photo by Jada Steward at the Hardell Sherrell Black Lives Matter Protest this fall in St. Paul, MN

Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Alton Sterling. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Oscar Grant. Sandra Bland. Stephon Clark. Ezell Ford. Freddie Gray. Ramarley Graham. Gregg Gunn. Mario Woods. Khaleel Thompson. Sean Bell. Renisha McBride. Rekia Boyd. Jamar Clark.

Life seems so apocalyptic when I think about all of the black individuals who are killed by police. It is disheartening to say that these are only a few of the names of black individuals who have been murdered by the police across America in just the past few years. It may seem as though this brutalization of black bodies has just begun, but the truth is, now we just have the technology to record it and release it directly to the public. ‘Black Lives Matter’ has become a large step to justice for the black community. It is no secret that black people, specifically black men, have been explicitly targeted for racial bias in America, but most of the world chooses to ignore it. The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is forcing America to acknowledge white privilege and institutionalized racism within those whose job description is to “protect and serve” the public.

‘Black Lives Matter’ is an activist group that started up four years ago. According to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ webpage, their mission is to be “committed to struggling together and to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.” This group was “enraged” by Trayvon Martin’s wrongful death. According to Biography.com, Martin was 17 when George Zimmerman shot and killed him after Zimmerman deemed Martin a “suspicious guy.” The Black Lives Matter movement was propelled by this evil death, and the rest is truly history.

India Hampton, a Hamline University senior and social justice major, says that the movement has given agency to the community, and way to speak out against the malice directed towards black people.

“It gives a voice in a world where we have no voice,” Hampton said, “It has created a beautiful platform for many movements like it.”

Because of the increasing resistance against the justice system by black people and allies of all different backgrounds, there has been people pushing back against this movement. Most people that have heard of the movement ‘Black Lives Matter’ have also heard of the slogan, ‘All Lives Matter.’ Truthfully, ‘All Lives Matter’ is just rhetoric. It is simply just a counter protest that has no real backing. John Halstead, an author for the Huffington Post says that ALM “distracts” and “diminishes” from the fact that black people are mistreated and killed by the police solely based on the color of their skin. It is not a movement, it has no mission statement, it is merely used to tear down a movement that numerous black civilians take pride in.

“‘All Lives Matter’ is really code for ‘White Lives Matter’,” Halstead writes, “because when white people think about ‘all lives,’ we automatically think about ‘all white lives’.

In my freshman year at Hamline, I took a first-year seminar course about local government. For our first large assignment, we were required to attend a city hall meeting, specifically one in Falcon Heights. Philando Castile was murdered in Falcon Heights by a member of the St. Anthony Police Department two months before I started my first year of college.

The passion pouring out of these individuals’ mouths on behave of Castile’s family, and black families in general was liberating. Their words were freeing and the emotions they brought me were indescribable. I felt empowered, recognized, outraged, heartbroken and fearful for my own family and how this could easily become a reality for any one of them. I scribbled down quotes of their declarations, eager to share the next day with my classmates.

I returned to a classroom full of hatred. Students speaking about how afraid they were to be in that environment, laughing about how angry those people had been. None of the students that had attended the city hall meeting identified as a student of color. I spit words back at my peers, channeling the same energy I had felt at the city hall meeting, only for it to be brushed aside. It was grueling to be in a space where the only person that felt the compassion of the city hall attendees and felt the empathy they so deserved, was me.

Now being a junior in college, I have had time to reflect. I have the same animosity towards the situation, but it showed me the importance of this movement. Not only that, but it sparked a significance in all the other movements to come before it. From the Freedom Riders to the numerous sit-ins, these everyday regular people were able to play a hand in the progression of black people.

For the journalism course I am enrolled in this year, our first assignment was to find a story. It was just to get people familiar with what reporting and journalism is. I saw a Facebook event for a protest and vigil for Hardell Sherell, a man who was said to have died of an “unknown medical condition” while in custody of the Beltrami County Jail. I knew this had to be my story.

I unfortunately must admit that this was the first Black Lives Matter protest I have ever been to, but it was something I will always remember. The emotions of the crowd who did not even know this man, listening of the stories of the ones who did, was such a humbling experience.

As the list of black bodies being brutalized by the police continues to grow, so does the resistance. The Black Lives Matter movement will not be stopped until justice is served. Black people are being killed for nothing more than the color of their skin. America is a scary place to live in as a black person. I live in fear for my family, and for other black families every single day. The Black Lives Matter group is a platform for black people to heal, to scream, to cry, to make a change. This all-inclusive crusade is just getting started and will not be stopped.

Jada Steward

Hamline '20

20 | Junior at Hamline University studying Elementary Education and English. Minneapolis, Minnesota
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