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#BlackLivesMatter 2015: The Year in Review

Black Lives Matter demonstrators protest on May 1, 2015, International Workers Day. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr Creative Commons)

Black Lives Matter demonstrators protest on May 1, 2015, International Workers Day. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr Creative Commons)

Since its founding in 2013 in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin, #BlackLivesMatter has grown into an international activist movement.

In 2015, #BLM fought back against injustice against people of color, from police shootings to racism on college campuses to ever-increasing economic inequality. From Ferguson to London, from Charleston to Toronto, it was a busy year, as each new injustice was met with growing outrage, resolve and determination to tackle the scourge of societal racism head-on.

BLM was born in 2013 in the wake of high-profile killings of unarmed black men, women and children by police officers and others. The acquittal of George Zimmerman, who killed unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in 2012, moved Alicia Garza of Oakland, California and her friends Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi to start using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to spark a national discussion about how black lives are undervalued in America.

It wasn’t long before talk turned to protest, as the police killing of unarmed black men and boys including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in New York City and Tamir Rice in Cleveland ignited outrage and demonstrations, sometimes violent, across the nation. Slogans such as “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “I Can’t Breathe” chanted by BLM protesters entered the national conversation. The burgeoning movement was deeply polarizing, with many conservatives downplaying concerns about enduring racism and portraying BLM as hostile to police.

Black Lives Matter led December 4, 2014 protests against the NYPD killing of unarmed black man Eric Garner. (Photo: Paul Silva/Flickr Creative Commons)

Black Lives Matter led December 4, 2014 protests against the NYPD killing of unarmed black man Eric Garner. (Photo: Paul Silva/Flickr Creative Commons)

As police shootings of black people continued to dominate headlines around the nation, BLM continued to expand its presence and protests as outraged demonstrators called for justice, accountability and reform of a system critics claim is rife with institutional racism. In protests large and small, 2015 was the year Black Lives Matter became a household name in America.

In March, BLM took to the streets of Chicago to demand meaningful reform of the way police treat black citizens. Protesters called for an end to discriminatory ‘stop-and-frisk’ policing and excessive use of force by officers in a force plagued by generations of racism, misconduct and even the torture of innocent black men.

The following month, the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a broken spine during arrest and transportation by Baltimore police, sparked nationwide BLM protests, some of them at times violent. In Baltimore, further outrage was sparked when it was revealed that black youth arrested during the protests had bail amounts set as high as $500,000, while the officers charged with killing Grey had bails set at $250,000-$350,000. In December, a Baltimore jury weighing manslaughter and other charges against officer William Porter could not reach a verdict, and a mistrial was declared.

Also in April, video of North Charleston, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager fatally shooting Walter Scott—who was unarmed and running away—in the back led to more BLM protests and first-degree murder charges for Slager.

Charleston was in the headlines again in June when a white supremacist gunman intent on sparking a race war massacred nine worshippers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. BLM featured prominently among the more than 20,000 demonstrators who took part in a unity march to the top of Charleston’s Ravenal Bridge, as well as in successful efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol and elsewhere. Also in June, video of McKinney, Texas police officer David Casebolt brutalizing a 15-year-old girl brought hundreds of BLM protesters into the streets.

As summer heated up, BLM went international as protesters shut down Allen Road in Toronto after police there killed Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby. On July 25, hundreds of BLM and other protesters rallied and marched in Newark, New Jersey. But the biggest BLM story of July was that of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Black Lives Matter activist who was found dead in a Prairie View, Texas jail cell after an argument with an officer over her alleged failure to signal a lane change. On December 21, a grand jury decided no felony charges would be filed against Bland’s jailers.

As summer turned to fall, BLM was in the streets and the headlines in Canada as members joined forces with the international feminist movement Take Back the Night in Toronto. Hundreds marched in Sacramento, California on September 2 to show their support for a state Senate measure to increase oversight of police. September also saw mostly peaceful protests in Baltimore as judicial proceedings in the Freddie Gray case began.

October and November witnessed a wave of student protests against racism and inequality that spread from the University of Missouri to campuses around the nation, including Yale, Dartmouth, Ithaca College, University of Kansas and Claremont McKenna College.

After Minneapolis police shot and killed Jamar Clark, who was unarmed, on November 16, BLM set up a protest camp outside the city’s 4th Precinct Police Station. On November 23, suspected white supremacists shot at protesters there, wounding five people. Two suspects were arrested and on December 3 police destroyed the BLM camp, spurring hundreds of activists to temporarily occupy the City Hall rotunda. Minneapolis also saw BLM demonstrations later in December, as activists took to the Mall of America and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to protest the Jamar Clark killing. These “Black Xmas” protests also took place in  Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, and San Francisco.

As the 2016 presidential race got under way, BLM made its presence felt and voice heard by interrupting candidates’ campaign events to press politicians to acknowledge and address issues of importance to the movement. BLM targeted Democrats even more than Republicans, despite the fact that liberals have tended to be more receptive to its message. In August, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution supporting BLM, and Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley all publicly declared that “black lives matter.”

Liberal support for BLM provoked conservative outrage, with leading Republican politicians and pundits accusing the movement of fomenting violence against police. Some even called it a terrorist group. An “All Lives Matter” counter-protest arose, with critics accusing it of falsely implying that all lives are at equal risk of being devalued and destroyed.

President Barack Obama felt compelled to address the difference between BLM and All Lives Matter.

“I think that the reason that the organizers used the phrase Black Lives Matter was not because they were suggesting that no one else’s lives matter, rather what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African American community that’s not happening in other communities,” Obama said in October. “That is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.”

Going forward into 2016, there is still plenty of injustice for BLM to address and as the movement continues to raise awareness and ire, look for plenty of protests and other action in the year to come.

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