Police brutality, which disproportionately targets Black Americans, dates back to the slavery on which America’s wealth was founded. Black people living in the U.S. learn from a very young age that police are not there to protect them, but rather represent a threat to their lives.
Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 after the murder of Trayvon Martin highlighted the dangers Black children, women and men face daily because of the color of their skin.
The grassroots movement has protested against police violence and anti-black racism since then and advocated for policy changes to address racial injustice. Despite having been active for the better part of a decade, Black Lives Matter was recently launched into the global spotlight after the police killing of George Floyd rocked the world.
On this week’s episode of “Scheer Intelligence,” Dr. Melina Abdullah, a BLM co-founder, tells host Robert Scheer how—while BLM had worked hard to raise awareness about the slayings of everyone from Sandra Bland to Eric Garner—the activists did not expect the response to Floyd’s death to be so far-reaching.
“We couldn't have anticipated this moment,” says the BLM leader, “but we've been working towards it and preparing for it for the last seven years. Black Lives Matter was born right here in Los Angeles in July 2013.”
Abdullah, a professor at California State University, Los Angeles, talks about how residents of Black communities like the one where she and her three children live, have never felt safe around police, but rather look to others within the community for support. The activist has been involved in organizing and proposing policies to restructure spending priorities in L.A. for some years, but she had been largely ignored. Once she was threatened at gunpoint by David Lacey, spouse of L.A. county’s district attorney during a BLM protest in front of the Lacey home over the DA’s refusal to prosecute police for killing civilians. Floyd’s murder and the mass protests that his death inspired have, however, radically changed the way establishment politicians approach Abdullah and BLM as a whole.
Black Lives Matter activists were recently invited by the Los Angeles City Council to present their “People’s Budget,” which proposes a redistribution of funding away from the city’s police department and into public services that will help and protect black, brown, and poor residents in meaningful ways. The budget was drawn up by BLM’s Los Angeles chapter in conjunction with other groups based on how 25,000 Angelenos said they wanted their taxpayer money spent.
Politicians and countless companies, many of which were conspicuously absent over the years as the grassroots movement was taking shape, have shifted their position on BLM and released messages of solidarity. In perhaps the most patently hypocritical example, the National Football League has backtracked on its position regarding football players kneeling, a peaceful protest that cost Colin Kaepernick his job. But as corporations quickly move to declare their support for BLM in what is being described as “performative anti-racism,” the intersection between economic and racial injustice is sometimes buried beneath the press releases.
“At the heart of [current protests] is what Martin Luther King was talking about at the end of his life,” the Scheer Intelligence host tells Abdullah, “that you can't have a revolution for the situation of Black and brown people in this country if it doesn't have a strong economic component. And it seems to me that's what your ‘People’s Budget’ is attempting to address.”
“It's definitely dealing with questions of poverty and lack of resources,” she says. “And it's also grounded in remedying anti-Blackness. [...] We absolutely have to deal with the way in which capitalism exploits us, and the way in which capitalism exploits Black people in particular.”
Black Lives Matter has seized the current moment to push Americans to reimagine what security looks like, but, perhaps more important, what an overall healthier, more just society can look like. In order to do that, conversations and activism will have to look beyond party politics and who’s president, argue both Abdullah and Scheer. Adding to the discussion about the economic foundation of racism, the activist goes on to outline the different shapes white supremacy takes in American society.
“So you have the white supremacist terrorist in the body of the current occupant of the White House, right?” says Abdullah. “And people are oftentimes comfortable pointing to Trump and his regime and saying, ‘That's racism, that's anti-Blackness, that's evil, right?’ But what they're less willing to do oftentimes is to call out what I call liberal white supremacy.”
To illustrate her point, the BLM leader brings up two local Los Angeles figures: Mayor Eric Garcetti and District Attorney Jackie Lacey. Both have pushed and implemented anti-Black policies under the guise of liberalism, and in the case of Lacey, Abdullah points to her and George W. Bush’s secretary of state Condoleezza Rice as examples of embodying the tyranny of “a Black face on white supremacy.”
While there is still plenty of work to be done to achieve lasting social justice, one of the Black Lives Matter co-founder’s main goals seems to be coming to fruition as thousands around the globe have taken to the streets to support the movement’s message.
“People all over the country and the world are recognizing that they have to plug in,” says Abdullah. “We have all got to be engaged in the transformative work that's taking place.
“One of my greatest hopes when we first initiated Black Lives Matter,” she goes on, “[is] that we become a mass movement. As we become a mass movement, we have the capacity to again fundamentally transform the world that we live in.”
Listen to the full conversation between Abdullah and Scheer as they discuss the unprecedented uprising and the activists and communities at the heart of Black Lives Matter since its founding.