Black Lives Matter: The Movement Behind the hashtag
In response to violence from police and white supremacists killing unarmed Black men and women, the movement Black Lives Matter (BLM) was formed. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter first gained attention in 2013, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of a Black teenager, Trayvon Martin. The phrase "Black Lives Matter" is now a symbol and movement in the fight for racial equality for Black people all over the world.
Despite its growing attention and the awareness of the racial injustices that Black people experience daily, the movement still has people who fight against it because they feel that it is “anti-American” and excludes other races and ethnicities who are targeted by the police. Despite its growing attention and the awareness of the racial injustices that Black people experience daily, the movement still has people who fight against it because they feel that it is “anti-American” and excludes other races and ethnicities who are targeted by the police.
As a form of retaliation to the phrase Black Lives Matter, the phrase All Lives Matter gained popularity to counterattack. The only issue is that All Lives Matter tries to discredit BLM saying they are not the only ones who matter, despite Black people dying at disproportionate rates compared to white people. Black Lives Matter calls for equality, justice, and the need to be seen and heard.
The use of the Black Lives Matter hashtag typically rises following a police-related death of a Black person . In 2020 following the death of George Floyd, the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was used roughly 47.8 million times on Twitter (Anderson, Barthel, Perrin, & Vogels, 2020). Following Floyd's death, protests began to emerge across the country in various cities.
Lancaster City showed a major display of support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd.
Community members gathered and marched downtown and chanted for justice and equality. Protestors made art displays to honor the Black lives lost at the hands of police officers across the country. Despite Lancaster’s size and seemingly quiet appearance it still gained attention for its police violence on numerous occasions including one in 2018 and one in 2020 shortly after the protests began.
In 2018, a Lancaster City police officer tased an unarmed Black man, Sean Williams, who was complying with orders. One of the two officers at the scene walked behind Williams and pulled out his taser and tased him after giving Williams orders to cross his legs. Williams did not have the time to follow his orders before officer Philip Bernot tased him. Lancaster residents gathered at the Lancaster Courthouse demanding justice, but it would later be discovered that none of the officers would face being fired or suspended.
Two years later, amid the protests following George Floyd's death, Lancaster City's police department was under fire after an officer fatally shot a man, Ricardo Muñoz. An emergency call made by Muñoz's sister, saying her brother was attacking her and having an episode leading to the arrival of police at the family home. Upon the officer's arrival, Muñoz ran out of his home and chased down the officer with a knife, resulting in the officer shooting and killing him.
Criticism from Lancaster City residents called for justice for Muñoz, who did not have the appropriate help and resources he needed for his disorder, which resulted in the episode leading to his death. According to Sauro from Lancaster Online, Lancaster mayor, Danene Sorace, stated that there is a need for change at all levels of government to change the system. However, many Black Lancaster residents are skeptical about the mayor's statements and promises.
While Black people are dying at an alarming rate at the hands of police, it is important to note that despite white Americans making up half of the people shot by police, Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population and are killed at twice the rate (WP Company, 2020). Black people are at a disadvantage in the legal system because of the color of their skin.
A person of color has to work harder to have a fraction of what a white person can easily have because of their privilege. According to Cullors, Black Americans are not only at a disadvantage when it comes to police but in health care, housing, education, and economics. Cullors suggests that rather than investing in police departments that rarely protect citizens of color, funding other departments that could help people rather than harm them would be more beneficial.
What the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in Lancaster and around the country are calling for is new police reform. Citizens want the funding given to police departments that allow them to be weaponized at a military level to be given to other public resources. Programs such as health care, affordable housing, education programs, and teams of social workers reflective of the city's demographics are trained to de-escalate.
According to the Lancaster City Budget Report, almost 43% of Lancaster City's budget is given to the police department. Austerity in social welfare and public health programs has led to police and prisons becoming catch-all responses to social problems (Edwards, Lee, & Esposito, 2019). If a fraction of the budget was given to health programs in Lancaster City, Ricardo Muñoz would have received the proper care he needed, and would still be alive today.
As tensions rise in today's political climate in the United States as a result of the messages the current president has sent out to his followers, racism has become an issue that is no longer hiding in the shadows of society. America's clean and polished image of equal opportunities and equal rights has tarnished and become one that only means equal if you are white. It is important to note that the only people who do not see the injustices of the system they live in are those born into it with the privilege to ignore it.
Furthermore, Lancaster's size and its seemingly quiet appeal do not take away from the fact that it is still part of the issue in allowing racism to lead its law enforcement. In the last two years, Lancaster County has seen a rise in homelessness, according to LancoMyHome. Still, the police department in Lancaster City and Lancaster Township ask for more funds in their yearly budget, leaving other resources scarce.
As Cullors mentioned, instead of giving funds to the police, they should fund programs that help the community through health and education. During the marches over the summer, the Lancaster City police geared itself in military-grade equipment over non-violent protests. There is no reason for common law enforcement to have this kind of equipment in a city with 60,000 people.
One step to solving discrimination by the police is to acknowledge its roots; they need to make sure Black voices are being heard and given the proper platform. Ultimately, white people need to listen and understand the truth behind their privilege and know that their privilege is a valuable tool for helping POC make the changes they need.