Is Black Lives Matter Making a Mess of Things?


Here’s a question for both supporters and critics of the Black Lives Matter movement:

What does Black Lives Matter want?

Not sure? How about this. Can you cite a moment in which a BLM leader passionately and eloquently denounced the recent shooting deaths of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge? Can you name one or two leaders from the movement?

Chances are the answers to those questions fall all over the place. Four years after its founding, BLM is still a movement without a clear meaning for many Americans. Some see it has a hate group; others as cutting-edge activism and yet others as just a step above a mob.

“Most of the folks in the movement are young and we’re black so they assume we’re uneducated and uninformed and we’re just angry and in the streets,” says Johnetta Elzie, a leader in the BLM movement and Campaign Zero, another organization formed to fight police brutality.

Those assumptions may now get worse as BLM leaders confront a make-or-break moment that virtually all protest movements eventually face: What happens when your enemies and unexpected events do a better job of defining your movement than you do?

BLM leaders are under a new kind of scrutiny because of a whiplash of unexpected events: cell phone videos of two black men who died from police gunfire followed by the ambush and killings of five police officers in Dallas at a Black Lives Matter protest, and three police officers targeted and killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

As a result, activists and scholars say BLM is facing the same challenge that confronted striking steelworkers in the 19th century, gay activists blindsided by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in 2011. These movements initially captured the public’s imagination, then their existence was threatened by something over which they had no control.

Some of these movements adjusted; others withered.

“The action is on page one; the retraction is on page 88,” says Jerald E. Podair, a historian and author of “Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer.” “If you cannot adapt you’re simply not going to survive.”

Can BLM adapt? The same organizing philosophy that has helped the movement grow may lead to its demise, some activists and historians say. They cite these four reasons:

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Source: CNN | John Blake