In the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2013, Black Lives Matter (BLM) co-founder Opal Tometi cried out against anti-black racism. Her cry? A hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, that would jumpstart a movement combating racism, a topic usually kicked under the carpet.
The movement especially took off during the destructive Ferguson protests prompted by Michael Brown’s death in August of 2014. Controversial police brutality videos paired with “#BlackLivesMatter” fueled the fire. In two short years, BLM has advanced the conversation surrounding anti-black racism and police brutality nationwide. BLM has regularly relied on social media to ensure its voice is heard, and it has been. The BLM network has chapters in all major U.S. cities and outside the country in nations such as Canada and Ghana.
BLM has the manpower and resources for a successful movement. However, when the world’s 2 billion active social media users expedited the growth of the BLM movement, its activists were left to deal with its decentralized structure. This lack of organization creates a climate in which activists can consistently perform self-destructive behaviors.
Disruption seems to be the adopted strategy of many activists in the absence of a hierarchal organization. Activists who have identified with BLM have consistently interrupted political campaign speeches in an attempt to be heard by potential voters. Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have had protestors interject and disrupt their speeches, inciting a strong reaction from the candidates’ respective audiences. Although their intentions seems just, the activists’ execution is disruptive, and witnesses find it difficult to agree with them.
For example, during protests over Laquan McDonald’s shooting by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, BLM activists gathered in downtown Chicago and began tearing the lights off Christmas tree in Millennium Park. Videos of the incident circulating online showed the activists cursing at innocent passersby. Their actions that night resembled those of thugs rather than peaceful protestors.
And on Jan. 15, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., BLM activists took to a busy highway in Boston at the peak of the morning commute, blocking traffic to protest the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers in Missouri and New York. Some chained themselves to barriers and required power saws to be freed. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said it was a dangerous protest, and 29 activists were arrested. More important, though, the protest upset its immediate audience, the commuters. It is hard to imagine that commuters would appreciate the reasoning behind the protest before being aggravation at being late for work.
The irritated reactions incited by many of the BLM strategies do not seem to be based on racism, but simply the disruption caused by unorganized strategy. Some of the various BLM chapters around the U.S. have proved unable to organize themselves amidst the rapid growth of activists. This succeeds in perpetuating a negative, unruly image of the BLM movement.
While interrupting political campaign speeches, vandalizing Christmas trees and blocking off roads may be performed with good intentions, it pushes BLM further from its goals.
Where is the hierarchy in charge of checking these destructive behaviors? Chapters of the civil rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s organized themselves and agreed on strategies through the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Today’s BLM movement has not had the time to form its own version of CORE, and chapters are left without a consensus on strategy. BLM’s rapid expansion ironically is why it is not as effective as it should be.
The man who is late to work because BLM activists have blocked the streets will find it hard to see eye-to-eye with them, as will the families who watched the vandalism of a Christmas tree downtown and the voters who are unable to listen to political candidates at the candidates’ own rallies. As the BLM movement expands, with social media as its medium, its efficacy will remain compromised due to its lack of organization.
Emmett Orr is a contributing columnist.