In the two years since its conception, the Black Lives Matter movement has transformed from a powerful, U.S.-based unifier to a globalized movement connecting black and oppressed people all over the world.
After the acquittal of George Zimmerman in July 2013 in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, three black women created #BlackLivesMatter to represent black people who were being terrorized by state-sanctioned violence, poverty and mass incarceration.
It was a declaration.
Let’s be clear: The reach of anti-black racism is not confined to the borders of North America. Black Lives Matter has become a transformative outlet for all black people from different historical, cultural, socioeconomic and political identities. It is a source of solidarity for the survivors of colonization, exploitation, capitalism and police brutality.
After a grand jury failed to indict then-Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown, “Black lives matter!” became the rallying cry of protesters in Ferguson and across the nation. The militarization of police, the presence of the National Guard and a citywide curfew in St. Louis drew international attention.
As #BlackLivesMatter gained momentum, social media campaigns like #Palestine2Ferguson connected the violent erasure of Palestinian lives in Gaza to the mistreatment of black people in Ferguson and the U.S. at large. The mutual experiences of struggle and marginalization between African Americans and Palestinians created a real base of international solidarity, with Palestinians using Twitter to provide tips to Ferguson protesters on methods of neutralizing tear gas.
When Freddie Gray died in April, a week after he was brutalized by police officers in Baltimore, that city rose up in defiance. A state of emergency was declared, the National Guard was called and a curfew set. Major protests swept across the country, in open resistance to anti-black racism and police brutality.
Around the time that military forces were being withdrawn in Baltimore and the curfew lifted, Ethiopians in Israel began protesting after an Ethiopian member of the Israeli army was attacked by Israeli police while in full uniform. The systemic anti-black racist discrimination against Ethiopians living in Israel became connected to the larger Black Lives Matter movement, with Ethiopian Jews demanding that their black lives mattered, too. Much as in Ferguson and Baltimore, they demanded an end to discrimination and police brutality in Israel.
Last month, 28-year-old Sandra Bland was pulled over by Texas state Trooper Brian Encinia and was found dead in her cell days later. An international campaign for justice emerged, from a mural in Ottawa to #SandraBland hashtags worldwide. #SayHerName—a campaign seeking justice for black women who died while in police custody, among them four other women in July—connected to #BlackLivesMatter. That connection created a deeper understanding of state violence, expanding the movement to include gender and sexuality under its banner.
In the latest act of resistance, Black Lives Matter Toronto shut down both sides of a major highway in July to agitate and advocate for the families of 33-year-old Jermaine Carby and 45-year-old Andrew Loku, who were killed by police in Canada. #BlackLivesMatter activists in the U.S. used social media in solidarity, helping to shape the narrative in seeking justice for the families.