By Josh Hafner, USA TODAY
Since police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown two years ago Tuesday in Ferguson, Mo., the words “Black Lives Matter” have morphed from a public outcry into a national movement.
Through a decentralized collection of grass-roots activists and groups, Black Lives Matter protesters have rallied on the streets of cities around the nation where African Americans have been killed in police-involved shootings, including Baltimore, Minneapolis and Baton Rouge. The movement even made its presence felt in protests at July’s presidential conventions.
Activists who drive the Black Lives Matter movement and academics who study it say it all began with Brown’s death, when images of his body lying on the street of a northern St. Louis suburb and accounts of his killing spread widely through Twitter and sparked protests and media attention.
“If Mike wasn’t killed and people weren’t directly impacted, if we didn’t leave our homes, I don’t know where or what movement I would (have been in) two years ago,” said Johnetta Elzie, 27, a Ferguson protester who has become one the movement’s most prominent voices.
Without Brown’s death, Elzie said, “I probably wouldn’t be as involved as I am now.”
Kwame Rose, 22, became an activist in Baltimore after a 25-year-old black man, Freddie Gray, died in police custody eight months after Brown’s death. Black people dying at police hands isn’t new, Rose said, but the recent incidents have received more widespread attention because of social media .
“Black people have been having these conversations in our living rooms,” Rose said. “But social media has invited our followers, and millions of them, into our living rooms to have this conversation with us, in a sense.”
#BlackLivesMatter, the now-iconic Twitter hashtag, first surfaced in 2013 after the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old. It accompanied a public expression of grief by Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza.
Use of #BlackLivesMatter had diminished by summer 2014, however, said Deen Freelon, an associate professor at American University who studies online political expression. In the months after of Brown’s death, the hashtag became more widely used among people sharing frustration about not only Brown’s death, but also other incidents around the country.
Freelon co-authored a study, Beyond the Hashtags, that examined 40 million tweets related to Ferguson and Black Lives Matter. It determined that Brown’s killing, paired with the protests and media attention that followed, propelled Black Lives Matter from a expression into a national movement.
Read more at http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/08/08/how-michael-browns-death-two-years-ago-pushed-blacklivesmatter-into-movement/88424366/