Monday, February 27, 2017

Black Lives Matter

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi created Black Lives Matter (#BlackLivesMatter) as a call to action for Black people after George Zimmerman was found not guilty for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin (#TalkAboutTrayvon). Trayvon was 17 when George Zimmerman took his life February 26, 2012. Trayvon was an honors student in English and loved math. He hoped to be a pilot one day. Zimmerman targeted Trayvon because he thought it was suspicious for a young black man to be walking in his neighborhood. In "The Killing of Trayvon Martin," Mike Armato and I discuss how a gendered and sexualized racism meant that Trayvon Martin's existence as a young African-American man became the focus of Zimmerman's trial, resulting inTrayvon's death being labeled a killing rather than a murder because African-American boys and men were assumed to be inherently dangerous.   

Although founded because of Trayvon Martin's death, Black Lives Matter is not limited to addressing extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes but is focused on affirming the lives of all Black people, including queer, trans, disabled, undocumented, criminalized, women and across the gender spectrum. 

There have been White people who have grumbled about and protested the idea of Black Lives Matter and have countered with All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. While of course all lives matter, these responses miss the point that Black people in the United States face a particular and unique set of conditions and that without attending to these conditions we cannot create a society free from oppression.  A basic idea in Black Lives Matter is by centering the lives of Black people, we can create a better world for all or "When Black people get free, everybody gets free."  

One way in which Black Lives Matter has influenced IMPACT Chicago is in our examining and revising our approach to getting to safety after an attack. For many years, our getting to safety mantra ended with "911." We have changed that mantra to end with "Get to safety" or "Walk to Safety."  The original mantra was based on good intentions but didn't reflect the realities of Black women who have defended themselves against violence. The guiding principles of Black Lives Matter and Mariame Kaba's book No Selves to Defend helped us see the necessity of changing our safety mantra.

The change to "Get to Safety" is consistent with our commitment to expanding people's choices and not offering a formulaic approach to self-defense. Everyone has benefited from this change because the emphasis is on people making choices based on their assessment of themselves, their relationship with the person(s) targeting them, and their knowledge of the situation they are in and no assumptions about what safety is for all. This is an example of how centering the lives of Black people benefits everyone.

Martha Thompson
IMPACT Chicago Lead Instructor
Professor Emeritus Sociology and 
Women's and Gender Studies
Northeastern Illinois University

#TalkAboutTrayvon toolkit 
Done in partnership of Black Lives Matter Global Movement & Showing Up for Racial Justice

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