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Black Lives Matter’s biggest moments of 2015
2015 was a big year in affirming all black lives.
It’s been a big year for Black Lives Matter.
The movement is more than two years old now, but it continues to reach new heights in the year since it became a household name after the death of Michael Brown in August 2014.
Since then, Black Lives Matter became more distinguished as a network. It spans 26 chapters in three countries and allied with other black organizations. In 2015, it tackled a number of challenges: the affirmation of all black lives, co-optation, racist trolling, misconceptions and counter-narrative arguments.
Regardless of these issues, the activist group made progress organizing in real life and online while in the face of the movement’s most tragic moments this year.
Here’s a timeline of only some of Black Lives Matter’s biggest moments in 2015.
Early January: Solidarity trip to Palestinian territories
Black Lives Matter kicked off the year in solidarity with Palestinians. Groups like Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project (BYP 100), organizers from Ferguson, and more joined in a 10-day trip to the Palestinian territories to meet with activists there. Patrisse Cullors, BLM co-founder, told Ebony she witnessed apartheid on the trip:
Feb. 1 – Feb. 28: Black Future Month
Black Lives Matter celebrated “Black Future Month”—not just black history—in February. Opal Tometi, the movement’s co-founder, wrote where it was heading on Huffington Post. She wrote that the fascination and engrossment in history should not come at the cost of not taking action today and shaping the future.
Tometi mentioned the high unemployment rate for black people, mass incarceration, and police violence as reasons why people need to get involved with BLM.
March: Mapping Police Violence
In March, We The Protesters, a popular activist group in the movement, launched Mapping Police Violence. The platform maps police killings by city and race. Popular activists DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie, as well as data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe, created Mapping Police Police to highlight how black people are disproportionately killed by police.
April 18: Baltimore unrest for Freddie Gray
Freddie Gray, 25, died on April 19, a week after being arrested by Baltimore police. He had fled as police approached him in fear of being brutalized, his friend told the Baltimore Sun. He was not under the suspicion of any crime.
Cellphone video captured Gray screaming in pain as he was dragged to a waiting van. He did not receive medical attention for his smashed larynx and severed spine. Gray was in a coma for a week until his death.
The first protest occurred on April 18, a day before he passed away, at the Western District Station with hundreds in attendance, according to NBC News.
The unrest started soon after news of his death became public, and it continued with a protest and march in the direction of city hall with more than 1,000 people on April 25.
May 21: Say Her Name
On April 22, Black Lives Matter: NYC organized a rally for Rekia Boyd, a Chicago woman fatally shot by police violence. As reported by For Harriet, few people showed up.
Black women and girls are often overlooked in news coverage on police killings, which center on black male victims. Look at the social media campaigns around Brown and Eric Garner, for example.
June 20: Charleston church shooting march
On June 17, terrorist and white supremacist Dylan Roof shot nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Roof was indicted on 33 charges, including federal hate-crime charges.
On June 20, hundreds of protesters marched for black lives and held a vigil in solidarity with Charleston after the mass shooting. Protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter,” according to PBS News Hour.
June 27: Bree Newsome
After Roof’s attack, filmmaker and activist Bree Newsome took matters into her own hands by climbing a South Carolina statehouse flagpole to remove the Confederate flag that flew there.
She was arrested, and the flag was restored.
But her point stuck. On July 10, following a movement in the South Carolina legislature, the Confederate flag was finally removed from the capitol.
July 13: 2nd anniversary
Black Lives Matter celebrated its second-year anniversary with a town hall-style Twitter meeting to Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager killed by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was acquitted of Martin’s murder on July 13, 2013.
It was a tense summer for BLM’s key issues: the Charleston shooting, a pool party incident where a police officer aggressively wrestled and pinned down a 15-year-old black girl in McKinney, Texas, and Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who led a Washington chapter of the National Association of Colored People while lying about being black.
Alicia Garza, another BLM co-founder, wrote about the anniversary and how its politics affected each other, saying “intersectional politics (and practice) is not just theoretical—it is the lifeline upon which we depend for our collective liberation.”
July 16: Sandra Bland
On July 13, police in Waller County, Texas took 28-year-old Sandra Bland into custody over a minor traffic violation. Three days later, she was found hanging in her jail cell. A county coroner ruled her death a suicide.
The FBI and Texas authorities launched an investigation.
Suspicion around Bland’s death was followed with protests and popular hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, and the heart-wrenching #IfIDieInPoliceCustody. Finally, in late December, a team of special prosecutors presented new evidence in her case late December.
On December 21, a grand jury decided not to indict anyone in her death.
July 18: Black Lives Matter Disrupts Netroots Nation
Black Lives Matter organizers disrupted a Democratic town hall at Netroots Nation, a political convention that featured two Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Cullors, with fellow activists Tia Oso and Ashley Yates, led the demonstrations to draw attention to the candidates lack of recognition regarding systemic racism and the dehumanization of black people.
July 24-26: Movement for Black Lives Convening
Black leaders around the country convened in Cleveland for a weekend of leadership in movement and relationship building across organizations at the inaugural Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland, Ohio.
Aug. 8: Black Lives Matter Seattle disrupts Bernie Sanders
As Sander’s popularity surged, three protesters with Black Lives Matter: Seattle disrupted the first of several of his rallies.
The activists talked about the anniversary of Brown’s death and pushed to get Democratic presidential candidates to recognize issues that black people face.
Aug. 9: One-Year anniversary of Mike Brown’s death
During the anniversary of Brown’s death, members of his family gathered at memorial in the spot where he was killed. Hundreds attended the rally. The memorial was followed by a march in Ferguson.
Aug. 11: Black Lives Matter Boston and Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton met with members of BLM: Boston in Keene, New Hampshire.
They discussed the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and the activists brought up the issue of anti-black racism.
“Look, I don’t believe you change hearts,” Clinton said, as the Daily Dot previously reported. “I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not.”
“Your analysis is totally fair. It’s historically fair. It’s psychologically fair. It’s economically fair,” Clinton added. “But you’re going to have to come together as a movement and say, ‘Here’s what we want done about it.’”
BLM Boston didn’t like Clinton’s response. One of the activists, Julius Jones, confronted her. “I say this as respectfully as I can, but you don’t tell black people what we need to do. And we won’t tell you all what you need to do,” he said.
“I’m not telling you what to do,” Clinton responded. “I’m just telling you to tell me [what to do].”
In October, Clinton met with We The Protesters, an activism group within the movement in October. Both Mckesson and Elzie said she talked more openly about racism, but it was a tough conversation.
We The Protesters also met with Sanders in September, and he talked more openly about his stance on the pressing issues impacting black people.
Aug. 21: Campaign Zero
We The Protesters launched Campaign Zero in August, a platform created to highlight presidential candidates’ policies on police and state violence. Campaign Zero features data-informed policy solutions from activists and research organizations to end police violence.
Aug. 25: Black Trans Liberation Tuesday
A disproportionate number of black transgender women were killed in 2015.
Black Lives Matter activists around the country showed up for black trans women at rallies, and used the hashtags #SayHerName and sparking #BlackTransLivesMatter.
Sept. 9: The Root 100
The Root, an influential African-American news and culture website, includes five members of the broader movement online civil rights movement in its annual Root 100 list of important black leaders.
Oct. 22: Black Lives Matter demands political debate
Black Lives Matter released a petition calling for a Democratic presidential debate focused on the candidates’ policies on racial justice issues.
“It is not enough to poll the presidential candidates on whether or not they think ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘All Lives Matter,’” the petition reads on Color of Change. “We deserve substantive responses and policy recommendations. We deserve substance and not rhetoric. In fact, we demand it.”
The Democratic National Committee responded with offering a town hall. BLM made it clear they wanted a debate instead.
Allen Kwabena Frimpong, organizer at Black Lives Matter: NYC, talked with the Daily Dot and added context on BLM’s political demands, the Democratic presidential candidates and BLM’s strategies on racial justice policies.
Oct. 22-24: Rise Up October
Carl Dix and Dr. Cornel West, leaders of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, organized a weekend of action that included a demonstration at Rikers Island, New York’s largest jail complex.
Oct. 29-30: Every Black Girl campaign
As October wound down, Nakisha Lewis, a strategist of BLM’s NYC chapter, launched a campaign for every black girl. The reason? Video showing a former police officer body-slamming a young black girl at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina.
Nov. 19: White supremacists shoot at Black Lives Matter Minneapolis
Black Lives Matter: Minneapolis protested the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark by police on Nov. 15.
Three white men were charged with second-degree riot felonies while armed, and a fourth man, Allen “Lance” Scarsella III, who repeatedly admitted to shooting five black men at the protest, was charged with five counts of second-degree assault and another count of second-degree riot, according to CBS Minnesota.
Nov. 22-24. #YearWithoutTamir
To commemorate the first year after Rice’s death—shot Nov. 22, 2014 by rookie police officer Timothy Loehmann—Hearns called for a #YearWithoutTamir in his memory.
Despite surveillance footage showing Loehmann and another officer pulling up next to Rice and almost immediately firing his gun twice at the 12-year-old.
On Dec. 28, a grand jury declined to indict either of the officers.
Nov. 21: Donald Trump Rally
Businessman Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate for president, has controversially provoked his supporters to harm Black Lives Matter protesters during his 2016 presidential campaign.
He supported his followers beating and calling a Black Lives Matter protester, Mercutio Southall Jr., racial slurs at his rally in Alabama. Video captured the incident.
Trump told Fox & Friends in an interview, “Maybe he should have been roughed up. Because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
Southall questioned Trump’s choice of location for such a rally, noting to AL.com that “Birmingham is 75 percent black, so why did he choose to come here? He could have gone to Mountain Brook or Hoover. I know they have the venues that can handle his rhetoric.”
Nov. 26-27: Holiday Protests
Black Lives Matter protesters rallied and showed their solidarity with the Minneapolis chapter ahead of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Hundreds of protesters rallied in Chicago’s retail district over the police killing of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager shot 16 times by police officer Jason Van Dyke, who faces first-degree murder charges.
Dec. 21: Mapping Police Violence’s end-of-year report
In late December, Mapping Police Violence released a report on police killings in 2015. The grassroots effort reported at least 1,152 people were killed by the police this year.
According to the report, one in four of those people were killed by one of the U.S.’s largest 60 city police departments. Forty out of 60 police departments disproportionately killed black people, and 14 departments exclusively killed black people.
Dec. 23: Black Lives Matter demonstrations and #BlackXmas
Just before Christmas Eve, Minneapolis’s Mall of America sued Black Lives Matter: Minneapolis, an attempt to stop the group from its planned demonstration on mall property.
A judge barred only three organizers at a hearing on Dec. 21, but didn’t prevent other protesters to participate in the demonstration at MOA on Wednesday, Dec. 23.
The local chapter of BLM protested the death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark who was shot by police on Nov. 15 and died a day later.
“Mall of America supports BLM’s First Amendment right to free expression, but courts have clearly ruled that right may not be exercised on private property without the consent of the property owner,” according to a request for a temporary restraining obtained by the Washington Post. “To protect Mall of America’s guests, tenants, and employees, this consent has not been given, and if BLM holds its demonstration at Mall of America despite the lack of consent, Mall of America will suffer irreparable harm.”
Protesters didn’t take kindly to the ban. “In an unprecedented attempt at halting a peaceful gathering, the Mall of America has sued 8 activists to compel them to ‘immediately’ post messages on social media and send out a mass text message announcing that the December 23rd event is cancelled,” BLM: Minneapolis said in a press release. “If the motion is approved by a judge, activists could face jail time for refusing to make social media posts or send texts in accordance with the demands of a private corporation.”
Black Lives Matter’s demonstration at the mall was only temporary, though. They relocated to trains and then Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, causing traffic delays.
Minneapolis was only one of many cities participating in calls of action for not only Clark, but Bland as well. Black Lives Matter released a statement announcing protests across the country called “No Business As Usual: Black Xmas is Here” and using the popular hashtag, #BlackXmas.
Two days ago, a Texas grand jury announced their decision of no indictment in the death of Sandra Bland. This young, vibrant Black woman died in police custody, after a racially-motivated stop, a brutal arrest, wrongful bail hearing and unlawful detention,” the statement read. “We know Sandra Bland could have been any one of us. So on December 23rd, one of the busiest days of the holiday season, Black communities across the United States are taking brave actions to impede the flow of goods and commerce with peaceful protests to call for an immediate overhaul of the justice system both locally and nationally that will demand accountability for police, removal of grand juries in cases involving police shootings, an immediate halt to militarized police units and weapons, and extensive review of racialized police practices in Black neighborhoods.
Black Xmas is here and there will be no business as usual until we get accountability for our dead, and justice for the living. Instead of buying gifts to fuel this system, Black Xmas is a day of action to reject the degradation of Black families and communities by police, politicians, and predatory companies, and declare our inherent worth. We will disrupt business as usual until city, state, and federal budgets stop funding Black death and start funding Black futures.
Illustration via Max Fleishman
Deron Dalton is a social journalist whose work for the Daily Dot focused on police violence, activism, and the Black Lives Matter movement.