Black Lives Matter : A History of History Repeating Itself

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In March 1944, 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames were cycling in the mill town of Alouco, South Carolina. The two white girls talked briefly to a 14-year-old black boy George Stinney Junior and then moved on. The next day they were found dead in a ditch and the authorities arrested George for killing the girls. The black community then was marred state-sponsored discrimination at the behest of Jim Crow Segregation Laws which escalated the atrocities against the minorities. Hence, incriminating a black juvenile was rather convenient for a democratic state like the US. George was declared guilty of the crime and on June 16, 1944, executed by electric chair, becoming the youngest person to be executed in the US in the 20th century. There was no physical evidence against him and he was not even provided legal counsel during interrogation. He was convicted on the basis of an unrecorded and unsigned confession of his which he gave to the authorities during interrogation under extreme coercion. His trial just lasted for 3 hours with 11 all white male judges leading the bench delivering a verdict in less than 8 minutes. 

His lawyer didn’t call any witnesses or cross-examine the prosecutor. He was so small that he had to sit on a Bible to fit into the electric chair for execution. His arrest was an emblematic representation of how the black community was denied justice. His case was reviewed in 2004 by the South Carolina court. In 2014 his conviction was overturned stating the boy was subjected to an unfair trial. His sister Katherine Robbinson Told BBC, “What happened to him should never have happened but it did”. Lives of people like George Stinney became a talking point of the civil rights movement where the African American community demanded an end of legalised racial discrimination.

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76 years later, the discussion on the systematic oppression of the black community became louder when George Floyd was brutally killed by the police officer on 26 May in Minneapolis. A  video surfaced online showing a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he was gasping for breath and pleading to the officer that he can’t breathe. The incident sparked widespread protests with mobs getting violent in the state of Minnesota. The FBI took control of the case and three officers were fired while the one kneeling on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, is being tried for Third Degree Murder. The protests even broke out in New York, California and Ohio. The Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on 28th May in a press conference questioned, “Why is the man who killed George Floyd, not in Jail?” Donald Trump on the other hand in a tweet on 29 May criticised Jacob for mismanagement and ordered him to bring the city under control. He even boasted of applying force and called the protestors “THUGS”.

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Today, the civil rights movement is in its digital age. A few days back, social media was flooded with #BlackLivesMatter. The term was coined in 2013 by three African American women named Alicia Garner, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi after the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Trayvon was in Stanford, Florida when Zimmerman, a white guy, found him “suspicious” and gunned him down on 26 February 2012. This led to a series of protests by the members of the black community demanding the conviction of Zimmerman who was later tried but acquitted on July 13, 2013, of all the charges against him. The reason for his acquittal was ‘Stand Your Ground Law’ which permits individuals to exercise lethal force on anyone who seems as ‘a threat or perceived threat’. The law is valid in most of the US states with some variations in provisions.  This case accelerated the discussions on violation of such laws at the hands of the privileged class.

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#BlackLivesMatter came into the mainstream when an 18-year-old African American boy Michael Brown was shot dead on August 9, 2014, by a police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. According to Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson who accompanied him that fatal day, Wilson chased down unarmed Brown after an altercation between the two and ultimately shot him despite Brown screaming at him not to. After the incident protestors took to streets and turned violent while the city was put under a curfew. The FBI discovered in the investigation that there was no evidence Brown said “don’t shoot” while raising his hands in surrender. Hence, Wilson was cleared of charges on the grounds of self-defence as well.

Since then the Black Lives Matter movement became a symbol of resistance by the black community. The movement apart from supporting the fellow racial people, resists Police killing before thinking, Mass surveillance on Black people, Privatisation of Police, Jails and Prisons and Demilitarisation of Law Enforcements at Schools and Universities. A document shared by American Civil Liberties Union with The Intercept revealed that between 2015-2018 the FBI spent considerable time and resources espionage on the activities of many individuals while slotting them into a category labelled “Black Identity Extremism”. According to a report by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by the police than white men while the number for Black stands at 1.4 times. The Washington Post found out that out of the 995 law enforcement shootings in 2015, more than 40% of the unarmed victims were African Americans despite the fact that they only account for 13% of the country’s population. In a 2018 study, 28% of the people stopped by the LA police were black while this number stands at 26% for Sanfrancisco considering the population of the community in these cities in less than 10%.

Although the movement gained higher support and mobility, the cases of killing and ostracisation of blacks are still on a rise due to racial disparities. The reason also being the less number of racial people in these government institutions. In 2013, African Americans made up to 12% of the total police force according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Donald Trump isn’t a big supporter of this movement. In one of his rallies, he coined the term ALL LIVES MATTER meeting a widespread criticism.  Politicians from the democratic side have explicitly supported the movement but never took any substantial step to curb arms attack. In 2014, it was Eric Garner and in 2015, it was Sandra Bland. In all these cases, the white officers were never arrested. We can all see how the laws are constructed to favor the people in power. The US irrespective of showing itself as liberal democracy has time and again failed to provide its citizens with the equal rights they deserve. Barack Obama recently said, “we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’ — whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park” but it is interesting to note that state-sponsored deaths were even happening in his administration as well. He never in his tenure took effective laws for gun control neither did he delivere effective executive orders for the background check of gun owners. In the cases of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland or even Ralphael Briscoe (a teenager shot dead by DC police) in 2011, there was never a stringent stand taken by the Democrats to make the oppressors accountable. This time with Floyd, there is a tangible fear that the accused Cop might get away using the loopholes in the US laws despite the #BlackLivesMatter getting international support due to social media.

Critics say that this movement has just become merely a hashtag to gain followers as the growth of it is stagnant.  This 16 June will mark the 76th death anniversary of George Stinney and the situation of the time of George Floyd doesn’t seem to have changed a lot. The Protestors are currently burning US streets chanting the slogan, “I can’t breathe”. The last expression of George.  

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