IZ: How did Black Lives Matter begin? What was the impetus behind the movement internationally and how did the Toronto chapter start?
LN: In February of 2012 in Florida, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, on his way home from buying Skittles and iced tea, was shot to death by a neighbourhood watchman named George Zimmerman. After six weeks of complete inaction by police and thousands of protests across the country, a special prosecutor charged George Zimmerman with murder. He was acquitted. A six-person jury found Zimmerman not guilty to charges of both second-degree murder and manslaughter. Zimmerman walked free.
This happened in the context in which Black people in the United States are killed routinely by police, security personnel or white vigilantes every 6 to 28 hours. It happened in the context in which police routinely kill Black children and youth with impunity. Trayvon Martin’s name would be joined by the names of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, 13-year-old Tyre King, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, 18-year-old Michael Brown and 21-year-old Alex Wettlaufer in Canada. In Los Angeles, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza started to tweet #BlackLivesMatter. In the tweet resided an affirmation. Black children are not disposable. Black children are inherently valuable and worth fighting for. Together with Opal Tometi, Cullors and Garza founded #BlackLivesMatter.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has grown to include 35 official chapters, of which #BlackLivesMatter – Toronto (BLMTO) is one. It formed following a grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri after stopping him for jaywalking. #BLMTO started off positioning itself in solidarity with Black communities for what was happening in St. Louis, Baltimore and New York City. It was not until later that we started to focus more intentionally on issues of police murder and anti-Black racism in Canada.
IZ: What are the specific demands and calls to action from Black Lives Matter?
LN: The 35 chapters of #BlackLivesMatter function fairly autonomously. Sometimes we convene to set some network priorities, but for the most part, people know their cities best and they develop demands that reflect the needs of their own communities. BLMTO develops demands based on particular campaigns or actions that we do.
BLMTO has focused on the police murders of Jermaine Carby in Brampton and Andrew Loku in Toronto. Jermaine Carby was a young Black man killed during a carding stop, and Andrew Loku was a South-Sudanese refugee father of 5 killed by police in his home in Toronto. When we commit to supporting a family who has a lost someone to police violence, it is very important to centre their voice and let them set priorities as the people who are most directly affected, so often our demands will focus on the wishes