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PHOTO ESSAY

The Obama Presidency

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Black Lives Matters

President Obama meets with young civil-rights activists: Rasheen Aldridge, Ashley Yates, T Dubb-O, James Hayes, Jose Lopez, Brittany Packnett, and Umi Selah (formerly Phillip Agnew), December 2014 (Pete Souza/Official White House Photo)

The Black Lives Matters social movement emerged in the summer of 2013, following the acquittal of security guard George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American, in Sanford, Florida. The phrase was coined in a Facebook post about Zimmerman's acquittal by Alicia Garza, and later amended as a Twitter hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, by her friend and fellow Oakland-based, black queer activist, Patrisse Cullors. Along with Opal Tometi from Brooklyn, Garza and Cullors began to turn the phrase into a social movement. Following the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri the following summer, #BlackLivesMatter became the rallying cry of a national protest movement against police brutality and structural racism in America. Though Obama expressed support for the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement and acknowledged the impact of structural racism, he was careful to balance his statements and policy proposals with support for law enforcement, and urged activists to take a gradual approach. This tactic drew criticism from some activists—including Cullors—who called for more meaningful executive actions, as well as from opponents who felt his defense of the movement facilitated anti-police sentiment. As of 2017, there were 38 chapters of Black Lives Matters in the United States and Canada. While BLM activists and the Obama administration had an at times uneasy relationship, there was much less ambiguity about his successor. Immediately upon taking office Donald Trump signaled his opposition to a "dangerous anti-police atmosphere," which he blamed on groups such as BLM.

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