Image: Courtsey of Rolling Stone

Racial tensions, inequalities police brutality, and violence are a major concern in the United States. People of color in America suffer from disparities across areas such as education, employment, housing, and incarceration rates.  African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million people in jail and are incarcerated nearly six times as often as white people.  The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a spotlight on issues of racial injustice and disparities within the criminal justice system in America and abroad.  It has reawakened the need for a new movement asking people to examine issues of race, discrimination, and disenfranchisement.

The Black Lives Matter movement first began in 2013 following outrage in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of an unarmed African American teenager named Trayvon Martin in Florida in February 2012. The movement further gained momentum following the shooting death of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer resulting from protests in Ferguson, Missouri and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City.  Since then, there have been numerous other examples of violence, racism, and discrimination against people of color, which have spurred the movement’s growth.

The Black Lives Matter movement has often been compared to the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States.  While there are certainly similarities, there are also a number of differences between the two movements.  Both movements call for social change and racial equality, while using non-violent protests to call for change.  This begs the questions: is the Black Lives Matter movement the new civil rights movement? Unlike the original civil rights movement, the Black Lives Matter movement has no singular voice demanding change, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X.  Instead, this 21stCentury civil rights movement is a collection of social activists and organizers taking a stand against police violence, disenfranchisement, and pervasive injustice and demanding change. While, some argue that the collection of organizers is powerful, others see it as a flaw.  For example, Oprah Winfrey criticized the Black Lives Matter movement for lacking clearly defined leadership at the top that lays out a plan of action.  In response, the movement released the Black Lives Matter Policy Agenda in 2016 to bring more clarity to the movement’s vision and goals.

Over the past few years, the movement has grown from a hashtag to a network that now encompasses over 30 chapters in the United States and other countries.  The movement, built on strategies used by the civil rights movement, engages in nonviolent direct action to bring attention to police killings and abuse of African Americans.  Critics of the Black Lives Matter movement argue that it is too confrontational and divisive, and that it is anti-police.  However, it is important to recognize that the movement and its activists are not against police, but against bad police policies, such as shooting unarmed black men now and asking questions later.

We will be discussing the important topic of race and inequality with a special focus on the Black Lives Matter movement next Wednesday, October 17th at the O’Neill Institute Colloquium at Georgetown University Law Center.  The purpose of the Colloquium is to engage leading experts, Georgetown Law students and faculty, and interested members of the public in an enriching dialogue surrounding current and pressing issues in global health law, policy and governance.  Colloquia intentionally blur the lines between students, faculty and policymakers, as a wide variety of perspectives enhances the learning experience of all participants.  The inclusion of multiple academic disciplines also promises to deepen the quality of the learning experience.  Each week, the Colloquium focuses on a different topic related to health, policy and the law.  This year, we have organized the sessions into four modules and this particular module is focused on populism and policy change.  The Colloquium is open to all Georgetown students, faculty, staff, and interested members of the public.