By ALEJANDRA PAULINO, age 13
On November 22, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland, OH, park when a man saw him and called 911 to report him, thinking the gun was real. When police officers arrived, one of them shot Tamir within two seconds.
Unfortunately, Tamir’s death was not that unusual. According to data analyzed by Mother Jones, Black people are more than four times as likely to be killed by law enforcement than white people.
In April 2015, 25-year-old Freddie Gray of Baltimore, MD, died after suffering severe injuries to his spine while in police custody. In 2014, several other killings of unarmed Black and Latino youth made headlines, including Michael Brown, a teenager shot by a police officer in Ferguson, MO, last summer.
These deaths sparked Black Lives Matter, a grassroots social justice movement that protests police violence against unarmed Black and Latino people.
The name of the movement started after the killer of unarmed Black Florida teen Trayvon Martin was found not guilty in July 2013. In response, activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. It was used periodically on social media, but picked up steam when Michael Brown was killed in August 2014. Cullors used the hashtag to spread the word about a protest in Ferguson.
When a grand jury decided on November 24, 2014, that the officer who killed Brown would not be tried for murder, protests erupted in more than 170 cities and #BlackLivesMatter was used more than 150,000 times on Twitter.
Since initial demonstrations in August 2014, at least 837 Black Lives Matter protests have taken place around the country, according to a record kept by Elephrame.com.
One tactic protesters have used is called a die-in, when large groups of protesters lay on the ground for four and a half minutes, to represent the four and a half hours that Michael Brown’s body lay in the street after he was shot. By blocking roads or busy walking areas, die-ins attract attention to the cause by disrupting regular activities in crowded places. Protesters staged die-ins at Grand Central Station, George Washington University, in public schools, on sidewalks and in malls around the country.
One of the largest protests was the Millions March on December 13, 2014, which around 100,000 people attended in New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago and Oakland, CA.
In an interview with IndyKids, Synead Nichols, one of the main organizers of the Millions March NYC, stressed the importance of youth in the movement. She encourages young people to ask questions and challenge unjust systems, saying, “Kids should really invest in learning about the way our country actually works. We’re not taught a lot of things in school that pertains to our advancement in the United States or even our own [Black] history.”
The movement continues to expand to include the challenges that specific Black and Latino communities face. Nichols said that all Black lives matter, including Black women and members of the LGBTQ community. “There is the oppression of Black people, but there are other systems of oppression which many people suffer under: patriarchy, gender and sexuality roles, economic standing, etc.,” said Nichols.
“We want to make sure there is the broadest participation possible in this new [chapter] of a Black freedom movement,” Garza told USA Today. “We need to bring all of those experiences to the table in order to achieve the solutions we desire.”
Patriarchy: a societal structure in which men hold power over women