Posted on July 18, 2023

After 10 Years, Is This the Beginning of the End for Black Lives Matter?

Erika D. Smith, Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2023

The afternoon sun beat down on Leimert Park as Sybrina Fulton, brown-skinned, regal and defiant, took the stage to talk about her son, but mostly about the movement that made sure we’ll never forget his name.

Trayvon Martin.

It was 10 years ago this month that a Florida jury acquitted the man who racially profiled and killed Fulton’s unarmed, baby-faced Black teenager as he walked home from the store wearing a hoodie.


The case that failed to provide justice for her son served as a racial awakening for a new generation of activists, in no small part because it prompted a budding racial justice activist in L.A. named Patrisse Cullors to go to Facebook (I swear it was popular then) and post “#BlackLivesMatter” as a call-to-action “declaration” for Black people. It worked — unexpectedly well.


Fulton, like so many other speakers at the People’s Justice Festival in Leimert Park on Saturday, commemorated this history and celebrated a “recommitment” to Black Lives Matter’s future.

But for others, it’s not quite that simple.

There are nagging worries about the controversies and dysfunction that have rocked the movement in recent years — and now new ramifications over a legal battle that has essentially turned the fundraising arm of BLM and the chapters of activists who spend that funding into direct competitors. {snip}


Few seem willing to say such things publicly. But I’ve certainly heard them whispered in private. For example, one L.A. activist involved in the earliest years of the movement told me the hoopla around BLM’s 10th anniversary feels “more like a memorial than a celebration.”


Polls continue to show a slow decline in various forms of support for Black Lives Matter. A recent poll from Pew Research Center found that backing for the movement is now at its lowest point in three years — down to 51% from 67% in 2020, the year George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.

The disproportionate killing and maiming of Black people by police barely grabs people’s attention anymore. The exceptions tend to be cases that are especially brutal — like Tyre Nichols getting chased down and beaten to death by a gang of cops in Memphis or a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy punching a woman holding a baby.

And so it tracks that the killing and maiming of Black people also no longer inspires as many Americans (or deep-pocketed corporations) to donate money to racial justice organizations.

Of course, it hasn’t helped that a series of widely publicized scandals — some real, some exaggerated and some completely imagined — have eroded public trust in several of these organizations, including, but not limited to, BLM. It all just feels messy.

Cullors, who stepped down two years ago after a rocky stint as executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, has admitted that she made mistakes and that she was ill-prepared for the sudden crush of demands and donations after Floyd was killed.

But “when you’re living in a white supremacist, capitalist country,” she told me recently, “movements that are for Black liberation are really difficult to sustain.” Indeed, history is full of examples.

Nevertheless, Black Lives Matter remains powerful, particularly as a brand. It’s on T-shirts and murals. Type the three words into your iPhone, and it will automatically capitalize them.

The rise of the movement is taught in classrooms. Parents discuss it with their children. And now, previously wonky concepts, such as systemic racism, white privilege and equity (rather than equality), are part of the everyday lexicon of millions of Americans.


So after 10 years, is this the beginning of the end for Black Lives Matter? Or just a new beginning?

“Every generation has an opportunity to advance, and involve the conditions for Black people. And we did,” said Cullors, now on the outside of the movement looking in. “It’s not over. Black liberation never dies. It has lulls and this is a lull.”

Surely, there will be more protests, more pushes for legislative change, more community organizing and more calls for reparations and economic development.

“At the end of the day,” she added, “Black people need power, we need autonomy and we need self-determination.”

Fulton would call that “persistence.” Pushing forward, she told the crowd in Leimert Park on Saturday, is how she survived the killing of her son and thrived by building the Trayvon Martin Foundation to prevent other young Black men from suffering the same fate.

“Black Lives Matter,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Regardless of what’s going on, Black Lives Matter. I lost my 17-year-old son. I’m not gonna let you give up.”