By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
During the summer of 2014, Black Lives Matter was established in response to the killing of Black men by police. The organization has now grown into a more diverse tool to address many of today’s most pivotal social issues.
With sudden success and growth comes challenges, in particular, controlling the image of BLM; promoting the organization’s original values; protecting it from infiltrators; and remaining a part of the public conversation while not drawing the ire of an overzealous federal government that has historically sought to destroy African-American liberation groups.
One of the most important philosophies of BLM is there is no leadership structure. It is something that was done purposely, according to Kofi Ademola, one of the few people in the BLM movement that gives official statements to members of the media. Ademola said BLM has learned from past mistakes made by Civil Rights organizations: having leaders, who can be assassinated, corrupted or “lose their way.”
During a sit-down meeting with the Crusader staff last month, Ademola said BLM does most of its organizing via social media and decisions on what issues to tackle and which ones to leave alone are done horizontally and democratically. He also said BLM is spending more time debunking falsehoods about the organization, shutting down rogue BLM chapters and organizing grassroots campaigns to address issues that affect the most vulnerable members of society.
“People who were already doing organizing in Chicago went down to Ferguson and they met Patrice and some of the national founders and asked what BLM would look like if they started a chapter in Chicago,” Ademola said.
“There are over 40 official BLM chapters around the world. The Chicago chapter is comprised of people from a variety of different backgrounds and members range in age from teens to senior citizens. Ademola said many people claiming they are members of BLM are fronting. He also said the media incorrectly reports many events involving protests as BLM sponsored when they are not.
If you were to ask the average person who they thought was behind a protest, they probably would say BLM. At nearly every march—regardless of the underlying reason for the protest—there are BLM signs carried at nearly every march.
The reality is that while many social justice organizations and activists seek to raise awareness for their cause through public protests and civil disobedience, they also want to support efforts to stop the killing of Blacks by law enforcement.
Although a protest may not be sponsored by BLM, the public will see various groups carrying Black Lives Matter signs at practically every police violence, civil rights, LGBQT, immigration, disability, and Fight for $15 march in Chicago and across the nation.
“We are very strategic in what we do, and we’re actually getting away from a lot of the public protesting and doing more behind the scenes meaningful work,” Ademola said.
Intra-communal violence is an issue BLM is currently tackling. Ademola said the term “Black on Black violence” is not one BLM uses because it is a falsehood based on years of social science research. He said research has shown that most crime is done by people who live in the same community as the victims. However, he admits in Chicago, intra-communal violence is out of control.
“We have a branch within BLM called Justice for Families. It was originally established to support families of police violence. But now, we extend it to families who have suffered from intra-communal violence,” stated Ademola.
Some of the services they offer families are helping to connect them with psychological counseling and fundraising to help deal with the funeral costs of loved ones. They also help refer people to ethical attorneys and teaching family members how to deal with the media after tragic events.
“The bigger goal is to help educate them however, to the larger politics at play and let them know that this systemic violence Black people suffer from all around the country is not by accident,” Ademola said. “A lot of it comes from unfair political, social and economic policies that create these large patches of depressed communities that always seem to contain the Black and Brown people in America.”
He said BLM philosophies are derived from many past human rights organizations from around the world. It focuses on economic, psychological, humanistic, and political philosophies. He also said BLM does not support any particular political party or politicians, but will align themselves with certain policies it believes is helpful to the community.
“We don’t want civil rights, we want human rights. We want control over our bodies, resources and lands,” Ademola said. “We do work with other organizations that are also doing work similar to ours.”
As BLM continues to evolve, they have a number of short- and long-term goals. Right now in Chicago, BLM is delving into police misconduct, what is happening in DCFS and Chicago’s problem with providing mental health.
Ademola said many of these issues overlap one another. He said they are also looking into decriminalizing certain drugs and sex workers, who are often victims of sexual violence and being forced to work on the streets by men who prey on them as pimps and customers.
BLM is gaining a foothold in Bronzeville and Roseland and is meeting with a variety of community groups to spread their message. Ademola said BLM is also looking into targeting certain politicians who are doing things that are hurting the community. While they did not endorse Kim Foxx for State’s Attorney, they did speak out strongly against Anita Alvarez. Ademola said that is about the extent the organization is willing to go as far as politics is considered.
The organization is also against speed and red light cameras and over-the-top ticket fines in which people cannot pay. When people cannot pay, it leads them to having their cars booted so they cannot go to work.
“When you can’t pay to get your car un-booted, it leads to them towing your car and you lose your vehicle,” he said. “It’s a sick cycle that keeps our people stuck in neutral. Because if you go into traffic court anywhere in Cook County, the majority of the people you will see appearing before the judge are Black.”