Back in summer 2013, Patrisse and Alicia are talking regularly and decide to turn #BlackLivesMatter into a movement that raises awareness of the deadliest parts of anti-Black racism. The seeds are already there—the Dream Defenders walked 40 miles to the Florida statehouse and occupied it, organizers in New York started the Million Hoodies Movement, and the Black Youth Project 100 in Chicago started developing leaders. Some Black people worry that “Black Lives Matter” is too radical a phrase, but they persist. Opal organizes a huge sit-in in New York, and Alicia leads a march through Oakland where the police attack everyone after a couple protestors aren’t peaceful.
Patrisse describes all of the direct actions taking place across the country as a way to show the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement—Black lives may not matter now, but all of these seeds of resistance suggest that there is hope that conditions could change. While, in the past, they may have watered down their demands or rhetoric, Patrisse and the other organizers feel that it’s time to state unequivocally that Black Lives Matter.
In LA, Patrisse prepares for what will be the largest march she’s planned. She brings together a march committee of mostly Black women, a crew that will become the core of BLM-Los Angeles. Their list of demands includes federal charges against Trayvon’s killer, the release of a Black woman who was imprisoned for defending herself against an abusive husband, no new jail or prison construction, and community control over law enforcement. They decide to march in Beverly Hills, where wealthy white people will hear their message.
BLM-Los Angeles’s demands show that, to Patrisse and her fellow organizers, Black lives will only matter when prisons and policing lose their power and actually become tools for keeping communities safe rather than making them less safe. Patrisse names that the group is mostly Black women as an attempt to challenge the sexist narrative that the Black Lives Matter movement was started and led by Black men.
Patrisse reaches out to all of the local progressive groups. The team discusses how to get across their goals of healing and building power. They want to aim for a world without punishment or prisons, a world where they know they will live long, fulfilling lives. They want lives filled with healthy food and rest rather than heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. They deserve quality housing without asbestos, lead-contaminated water, or the sense that they are living in a cage. They deserve love.
Patrisse reaching out to all of the local progressive groups shows that anti-Black racism intersects with so many other struggles—yes, they want a world without prisons (since inmates are disproportionately Black), but they also want healthy food, adequate healthcare, and safe housing. Policymakers choosing to disinvest in Black communities—and public services at large—is another way of showing that Black lives don’t matter to them.
The group takes their message to the march. Bullhorn in hand, Patrisse tells the people having brunch on Rodeo Drive that it’s time for them to confront police violence. As helicopters hover, she asks them to remember Trayvon and all of the dead, to know that their lives “mattered then and they matter now,” to understand that Black people were not born to bury their children. She asks that they stop what they’re doing for a moment to hold space for Trayvon and his grieving parents. The police move closer and, for a minute, Patrisse is scared—but then she sees all of the white people eating outside bow their heads.
While Patrisse is not sure what to expect when she appeals to the emotions of the white people eating brunch outside along the route of the march, she is amazed to notice that they all pause what they are doing and bow their heads in honor of Trayvon—a clear sign that the Black Lives Matter movement is gaining momentum, and that change is possible. The police are present at this march and, though they scare Patrisse, she feels buoyed by the presence of her fellow protestors and the support of the spectators bowing their heads. This underlines the shrinking power of the police in the face of the movement’s growing power.
The conversation between Patrisse, Alicia, and Opal continues, mostly with women, many of whom are queer and trans. They have 11 guiding principles that include ending all violence against Black people, celebrating differences in the Black community (gender, sexuality, disability, age, etc.), and practicing empathy. They talk about how to infuse art into their work and build out local and national demands that center on slashing police budgets and investing in jobs, schools, and parks. They are clear that Black lives matter both by virtue of their birth and the work Black people have put into people, systems and structures that did not respect them.
Black Lives Matter’s commitment to centering the experiences of queer and trans Black women is an attempt to counter the way that, in daily life, these women exist at the intersections of many forms of oppression. They also name age and disability as important markers of difference to keep in mind as older, disabled people also face particular forms of discrimination. That they also include practicing empathy as a core principle shows how healing is at the center of the movement, much as it is as the center of Patrisse’s life.
The first year of BLM comes in fits and starts. More and more Black people are killed: in Michigan, a man kills Renisha McBride (age 19) after she gets into a car accident and seeks help. A cop kills John Crawford (age 22) after he bought a toy gun from Walmart. And police suffocate Eric Garner to death while he calls out “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” The public still views each event as separate rather than as part of a movement that says Black Lives Do Not Matter. The organizers want Americans to understand that Black people are the only people in the U.S. to have ever been legally designated as not human, which is why it’s imperative that people say Black Lives Matter.
Patrisse shares more real-life examples of innocent Black people being killed by police and vigilantes to show how pervasive this type of anti-Black violence is. When Patrisse writes that Black people are the only Americans to have ever been legally designated as not human, she is likely referring to how, during slavery, Black people were legally designated property and were each considered three-fifths of a person for voting purposes in the 1700s.
On August 9, 2014, the American Movement Against Black Lives begins with the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Darren Wilson chases this unarmed Black man for an unknown reason and shoots him four times, including in the top of the head. His body was left on the street in the sun for four and a half hours. After, Wilson claims that he felt his life was in danger. Mike reminds Patrisse of Monte. This story shocks many, but not Patrisse; she is used to these kinds of public assaults.
The American Movement Against Black Lives is not a formal, organized movement, but the stylized way that Patrisse chooses to refer to the level of police violence that emerged in Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown’s death. Patrisse believes that Mike being shot and killed is example enough of racist police violence, but the fact that his body was left to lie on the street for four and a half hours underlines her point that Black people are treated as less than human.
Ferguson had been plagued by anti-Black racism long before Mike Brown was killed. Ferguson has 21,000 residents, most of whom are poor and Black, and police treated them like they didn’t matter. The Atlantic even compared their police force to mafia bosses. They had a game centered on seeing who could issue the most citations (mostly to Black people). Citations became fines, which then became jail time, even for people receiving their first parking infraction. And the city refused to offer payment plans. The Atlantic also described police arresting a Black man cooling off in his car after playing basketball at a park, charging him with random code violations like providing the short form of his first name and not wearing a seatbelt (while parked).
Here, Patrisse again makes the case that police violence is only one piece of how Black people in the U.S. are treated as if their lives do not matter—unjust policies are just as detrimental to Black people’s lives. Simple parking citations leading to jail time (as they do in Ferguson) is a more subtle yet deeply impactful way of controlling and punishing poor Black people.
After Jim Crow ended, politicians found other ways to weave anti-Black racism into legislation. And Black people did not rise up, because even they started to call one another “thugs” and “welfare queens.” Slavery and Jim Crow made public spectacle of Black torture, and the 1990s and 2000s brought the idea that if Black people did what they were told, they could become the next Oprah, LeBron, or Obama. The reality was, though, that most people were too busy fighting things like asset forfeiture, a law that allowed police to seize property (cash, cars, homes) if they suspected someone of selling drugs. They would then use the money from the seized assets to purchase military equipment, such as the weapons the Ferguson police use against protestors.
Furthering her argument about how policies can be just as racist as police officers, Patrisse notes that after Jim Crow ended, politicians used more coded language to continue to oppress Black people. This led to war on drugs policies (such as asset forfeiture) which targeted Black people simply for being suspected of selling drugs. The Black Lives Matter movement is committed to addressing policies alongside policing and prisons.