The Movement for Black Lives


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The 2020 uprisings have brought #BlackLivesMatter back to the center of national conversation. Organized by queer Black women Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the hashtag first appeared on Twitter in 2013 as a rallying cry to “recognize the humanity of all Black life.”

It has since anchored activism against anti-Black racism in the criminal justice system and beyond. New York activists have been integral to what is known as the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a sustained and organized force for change across the country.

The issues raised by M4BL were not new in 2013: Black New Yorkers have protested violent and discriminatory police treatment from Brooklyn in 1925 to “stop-and-frisk” policies introduced in the 1990s. Movement activists have built on this legacy by highlighting problems they see as interconnected: systemic racism, gender discrimination, health hazards, anti-immigrant sentiment, and economic inequality.

In 2020, continued police and vigilante killings of Black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the COVID-19 pandemic—with its disproportionate impact on marginalized communities in New York and elsewhere—ignited an unprecedented wave of Black-led activism propelled by calls to “defund the police” and reimagine a more just, caring, and equitable society.

Key Events

Global  Year    Local

Trayvon Martin is killed in Florida by George Zimmerman

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter emerges 2013

New York State Supreme Court declares “stop-and-frisk” policing by NYPD unconstitutional


Eric Garner and Akai Gurley killed in Staten Island and Brooklyn, respectively; Millions March in Manhattan

  2015 Kalief Browder commits suicide after a three-year stay at the Rikers Island jail without a trial, prompting increased protests to close Rikers
  2016 Fifty groups release “A Vision for Black Lives”; BYP100 sit-in at NYPD’s union, the Police Benevolent Association
  2017 New York M4BL activists protest the Trump administration’s “Muslim Ban”; help lead the Women’s March; and successfully protest to remove the Fifth Avenue statue of Dr. Marion J. Sims, who experimented on bodies of enslaved Black women

New York City Council votes to close Rikers, but provokes controversy by approving rezoning for building four new smaller jails

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