Black Lives Matter Finds 'Renewed Focus' 5 Years After Trayvon Martin | KUOW News and Information

Black Lives Matter Finds 'Renewed Focus' 5 Years After Trayvon Martin

Feb 27, 2017
Originally published on February 28, 2017 5:02 pm

It's been five years since the death of Trayvon Martin — and the outrage that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

Martin — 17 years old, black and unarmed — was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla.

Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. He claimed self-defense, and was later acquitted.

After the verdict, there were demonstrations — and an emotional Facebook post by an activist named Alicia Garza.

It read, in part: "Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter."

That phrase was streamlined by her friend, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and with the help of a third friend, Opal Tometi, "black lives matter" became a hashtag, a rallying cry and eventually a protest movement that gained steam after police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Since then, much has changed, Khan-Cullors tells NPR's Audie Cornish.

"In that moment, it wasn't popular to be in the streets. It wasn't a part of the mainstream dialogue," she says. "What we've seen over the last five years is the popularization of protest and the willingness of both media but also Hollywood to talk about Black Lives Matter unapologetically."


Interview Highlights

On whether the movement would have benefited from focusing on a single policy issue

The movement is a decentralized one. Many different people across the country are entering from different angles. We're not looking for one fix-it policy. We're taking on our mayors, our chiefs of police, our sheriffs and our DAs. We're looking at the entire system and the ways that it can transform itself so that we can actually see a world where black lives matter. And I think it's been incredibly effective.

On whether Donald Trump's election felt like a rebuke

I'll say this: Whenever black people say enough is enough, we are often up against white nationalism. And so what this election showed us is our movement became too powerful and that white nationalism — although (it) has always existed — took power again.

On Trump's voter base

There are people who are white racists and identify as such. And there are people who are well-meaning white people who also voted for Trump. There also are a significant amount of people of color who voted for Trump. And I think we have to consider what kind of conditions allowed for people who actually believe in American democracy to vote for a Trump.

On what lies ahead for the movement in the Trump era

I see us moving forward with a renewed focus. We have to defend and protect our communities, but we also have to build a long-term strategy to ensure that those who are most at the margins, that we'll actually be able to build real political power.

To hear more of this interview, click on the audio button.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's been five years since the death of Trayvon Martin and the outrage that sparked a movement. Seventeen years old, black and unarmed, Martin was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. The shooter, George Zimmerman, originally charged with second degree murder and manslaughter, was acquitted.

Now, after the verdict, there were demonstrations and this emotional Facebook post by an activist named Alicia Garza. It read in part, black people, I love you; I love us; our lives matter. Her friend Patrisse Khan-Cullors followed with the phrase black lives matter, which became a hashtag, a rallying cry and eventually a protest movement. I spoke with Khan-Cullors earlier today about what's changed since the Martin case.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: In that moment, it wasn't popular to be in the streets. It wasn't a part of the mainstream dialogue. And so what we've seen over the last five years is the popularization of protest and the willingness of both media, but also Hollywood, to talk about Black Lives Matter unapologetically.

CORNISH: You know, from the outside, it looks like the movement has become not just about specific police reforms - right? - but about this wider issue of getting the public to recognize racism and how it can lead to the devaluing of the lives of black people. But how has that, like, hurt and helped the movement, right? Like, would you have gotten farther if you were pushing just for like one specific thing or policy?

KHAN-CULLORS: I think that's a great question. The movement is a decentralized one. Many different people across the country are entering from different angles. We're not looking for one fix it policy. We're taking on our mayors, our chief of police, our sheriffs and our DAs. We're looking at the entire system and the ways that it can transform itself so that we can actually see a world where black lives matter. And I think it's been incredibly effective.

CORNISH: You know, you're now doing this in a new political atmosphere, right? Given the support for Donald Trump, and given that his platform of law and order seems to speak directly against your movement, did this election feel like a defeat?

KHAN-CULLORS: I'll say this. Whenever black people say enough is enough, we are often up against white nationalism. And so what this election showed us is our movement became too powerful, and that white nationalism, although it has always existed, to power again.

CORNISH: And when you refer to white nationalism, you're referring specifically to the Trump administration?

KHAN-CULLORS: I'm referring to the Trump administration. And I'm referring to his voter base. I'm referring to the people who he was able to rally around his hate agenda.

CORNISH: Is that fair? I mean, is there also a large voter base in America that really do believe that the police should be given the benefit of the doubt and that they're not necessarily racist for doing it?

KHAN-CULLORS: Yes. There are people who are white racists and identify as such. And there are people who are well-meaning white people who also voted for Trump. There are also a significant amount of people of color who voted for Trump. And I think we have to consider what kind of conditions allowed for people who actually believe an American democracy to vote for a Trump.

CORNISH: In the end, do you feel like your movement has moved from being a reactionary one to a proactive one? Do you see this moving forward with a different focus or renewed focus?

KHAN-CULLORS: I think I see us moving forward with a renewed focus. We have to defend and protect our communities. But we also have to build a long-term strategy to ensure that those who are most at the margins that we'll actually be able to build real political power.

CORNISH: Well, Patrisse, thank you so much for speaking with us.

KHAN-CULLORS: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

CORNISH: Patrisse Khan-Cullors is one of the co-founders of a Black Lives Matter organization. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.