Updated June 2, 2020
Black Lives Matter: An Activist Movement
Black Lives Matter is an activist movement which began as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager killed in Florida in July 2013. The movement became more widely known and popularized after two high-profile deaths in 2014 of unarmed African-American men (Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO). Neither of the police officers involved in their deaths were indicted (i.e., formally charged with a crime).
Violence against African Americans
There is a larger context and history of African American men and boys who were killed at the hands of the police, many of whom, like George Floyd (2020), were unarmed. Since 2014, other high-profile deaths include Tamir Rice (2014), Laquan McDonald (2014), John Crawford (2014) Freddie Gray (2015), Walter Scott (2015), Alton Sterling (2016), Philando Castile (2016), Terence Crutcher (2016), Antwon Rose (2018) and others. Black women and girls are also targets of police violence, a reality that sparked the "Say Her Name" movement to highlight how this violence often goes unnoticed. Women who have died as a result of police interactions include Sandra Bland (2015), Deborah Danner (2016), Atatiana Jefferson (2019) and Breonna Taylor (2020).
From Protests to Policy Solutions
Ongoing local and national protests and other actions—often sparked by the deaths of other unarmed African Americans—have brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the public consciousness and conversation. Black Lives activists released “Campaign Zero,” which includes ten policy solutions developed in conjunction with activists, protestors and researchers across the country, integrating community demands, input from research organizations and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
On March 4, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the findings in two separate investigations related to Ferguson. One report found a pattern of civil rights violations on the part of the Ferguson Police Department. A second report determined that “the evidence examined in its independent, federal investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown does not support federal civil rights charges against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.” Two weeks later, on March 17, the Department and the city of Ferguson formally announced an agreement “aiming to remedy the unconstitutional law enforcement conduct that the Justice Department found during its civil pattern-or-practice investigation.” The announcement resolved a pending federal lawsuit against Ferguson, and addressed a range of issues including bias-free police and court practices, protecting all individuals’ First Amendment rights, and reorienting Ferguson’s use of force policies.
Black Lives Matter continues to pursue policy solutions beyond the events of Ferguson.
About the Lesson Plan
This high school lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn more about Black Lives Matter and the activists involved, explore the controversy about using the term “All lives matter,” and posit their point of view in writing to a person of their choice.
- Students will learn about the history of the Black Lives Matter movement and how it evolved.
- Students will analyze the controversy around politicians and other people using the term “All lives matter” instead of or in addition to “Black lives matter.”
- Students will reflect on their perspective of Black Lives Matter and write a letter to a person of their choice which reflects their new knowledge and point of view.