Within just a few weeks of each other, the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were taken well before their times. These murders spurred on and re-incited support for what is now being called the biggest social movement in history, Black Lives Matter.
But it's important to remember that the Black Lives Matter movement started long before 2020; and the murder of people of colour at the hands of the police and others has been happening for centuries. So, how exactly did this particular movement start? And when?
When did Black Lives Matter start?
On July 13 2013 George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, a person of colour. It was an excruciating moment in history, because the details of this case appeared so clear cut.
Trayvon Martin was a kid. Just 17. He was on holiday, staying with his dad and soon-to-be step mum in Florida. One night, he walked to a local convenience store to get Skittles and a soft-drink, but on his way home, George Zimmerman saw him. Zimmerman was the the local neighbourhood watch coordinator and called 911 upon seeing Martin walking home. He reported he'd seen “a real suspicious guy” who was “up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something.”
Zimmerman was in his car and police advised him to stay in the vehicle. But he didn't. Zimmerman left the car, confronted Martin and according to reports a violent confrontation ensued. Zimmerman shot Martin at close range. He died of the gunshot wounds, alone. He was taken to a morgue and tagged as a John Doe. His family were not notified until after they filed a missing persons report.
The facts of this case would seem clear. But Zimmerman was acquitted of murder under Florida's 'stand your ground' law. Martin and his family never received justice.
And it was this fateful, horrible and painful day in history that #BlackLivesMatter started trending on social media.
Since then, this hashtag has evolved into an organised movement, protesting the treatment of people of colour in America and the world.
Who started Black Lives Matter?
The Black Lives Matter movement was started by activists, scholars and educators Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi.
Alicia Garza recently spoke to National Geographic for an article that I sincerely recommend everyone reads. In the article she shares how she wrote "Black Lives Matter" on a Facebook post on July 13 (when Zimmerman was acquitted) and never realised the global movement she was about to start.
From there, these three powerful women and activists joined forces to create a global organisation that fights for the rights of people of colour. They built a foundation, numerous online platforms, helpful resources, social media and community engagement strategies, in addition to running and coordinating public events.
According to the organisation's website the movement's mission "is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centreing Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives."
How Black Lives Matter grew to where it is now
Along with the hard work of the countless activists that have pushed to get the BLM movement to the globally recognised and respected position it is in, there have been certain events and moments in history that have drawn extra attention to the cause.
Following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014, people representing the Black Lives Matter took to the streets for public demonstrations and protests - bringing awareness to this movement and the countless deaths of BIPOC.
In 2015, Black Lives Matter made headlines for some positive reasons. Essence magazine devoted its February cover to the movement and in December BLM was a contender for the Time magazine person of the year. It eventually came fourth.
The pain behind the movement was reignited in July 2016 after the horrific deaths of both on July 5 Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, a day later on July 6. Both men were brutally murdered bv police. Sterling was selling CDs on the sidewalk and Castile was driving a car with his partner and her daughter. For this, they both received a death sentence. Naturally, BLM protests popped up all around American, demanding justice for these men.
Then in August of 2016 BLM made the news once again when activist and athlete Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers sat during the national anthem instead of standing - as is tradition. Kaepernick later explained "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder".
Now in 2020, the movement has expanded and travelled the globe. Protests have taken place all over the world, and many people are tackling everyday racism with renewed vigour. More people are joining the conversation and are helping to dismantle the architecture of white supremacy in a way they never have before.
2020 has been a wake up call for many. It should not take the horrific deaths of innocent people to spur on change. The events of this year have shown us just how much more needs to be done. Thankfully, we have trailblazers like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi who have paved the way for us. Helping us to understand what we need to do and how to do it. You can read more about Black Lives Matter on the official website.
It's worth noting that this is by no means an exhaustive list of events in the history of the Black Lives Matter movement. There have been many other pivotal moments for the movement and we encourage you to learn more. We've pulled together guides on how to to be actively anti-racist, how to support the movement and things to read and watch to better understand the systemic issues at play.
Image from the wonderful artist Nikkolas Smith on Instagram. This artwork features posthumous depictions of Rem'Mie Fells, Tony McDade and Riah Milton.