Public Opinion on the Phrase and Organization “Black Lives Matter” Nationally and in North Carolina
This paper will explore the change in public opinion of both the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and the organization created from the movement of police reform beginning in 2013 (BLM.inc). As the organization has grown so has its support and opposition. Over the last decade, public opinion on the issue has been highly influenced by the identities and cultural values of individuals as represented through political actors, celebrities, and race. In this article, the topic will be limited to the year 2020 due to the massive racial protests throughout the year resulting from the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery – all black unarmed individuals killed. Finally, we will look at both the national opinion and specifically at the opinion of North Carolinians.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” originated as an outcry for justice after the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen, by George Zimmerman, a member of a neighborhood watch. The case summoned Americans from all over the country to Florida to protest for the arrest of George Zimmerman. Police arrested George Zimmerman after more than 40 days of protest. After which, he was put on trial for murder and acquitted sparking national outrage. Since that time, use of the phrase has represented a demand for equality for and for the dismantlement of discriminatory policies and practices against African Americans in the United States.
For many in the African American community, Black Lives Matter represents this generation’s civil rights movement very similar to the call to action in the 1960s. A key voice in this movement is Alicia Garza, a civil rights organizer in Oakland, California, who coined the phrase Black Lives Matter in the hours following the death of Travon Martin. Garza along with friends and fellow organizers Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi years later co-founded the organization Black Lives Matter (BLM) in response to these tragedies. The Black Lives Matter movement’s popularity typically spikes with the circulation of media coverage on incidents of police brutality. The phrase again became viral in 2020 after the death of Michael Brown, another unarmed Black teen shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri (McCoy, 2020). His death was followed by the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, to name a few, at the hands of police reigniting the popularity of the phrase and the organization once again (About – Black Lives Matter, 2020).
In 2020, the BLM movement incorporated itself into political parties’ platforms. On May 25, 2020, a police officer killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for over seven minutes causing him to suffocate in police custody. Videos of the incident went viral across social media platforms, once again causing national outrage. With this video, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began to go viral once again as protests and riots struck around the nation. Black Lives Matter the organization, created shock waves from this event by proposing an idea known now as defunding the police. The policy reflected the statistical reality that African Americans are almost three times as likely to be killed by police as their white counterpart is in addition to their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system (Edwards, Lee, & Esposito, 2019).
In response to these actions, many looked to politicians in the federal and state governments to see how they would react. Former president Donald J Trump voiced his opinions by saying Black Lives Matter is a “symbol of hate” in America as well as called protester in the streets thugs (Bump, 2020). He often used his platform to condemn the movement for riots projecting the depiction of violence to his audience. He went so far as to say defunding the police was a socialist policy that the United States would never accept (Liptak, 2020). Many of former president Trump’s republican colleagues rushed to take similar opinions criticizing many Democrats for not condemning the riots or supporting law enforcement.
On the other hand, democrats largely disagreed with Republicans and supported members of BLM by speaking out about the injustices against minorities and the systems that allow them to happen. The democratic convention broadcasted visuals of protests and marches that had occurred in the summer of 2020 as well as held a moment of silence for George Floyd (Linskey, 2020). Despite not fully supporting the call to defund the police, then Presidential candidate Joe Biden campaigned for better training implementations and de-escalation practices for police in order to weed out bad cops.
It is important to note how the influence of many high-ranking politicians in different political parties changed the opinions of many on the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Black Lives Matter organization (Parker et al., 2020). The publics’ opinion largely reflected their own party affiliation within America. According to a Pew Research poll, of the 65% of Americans who reported concerns for racial tension and longstanding concern of the treatment of Black people, 84% leaned democrat while only 45% of those people leaned republican. Conversely, of the respondents who reported believing racial protests incited criminal activity (59%), 82% leaned republican while only 39% leaned democrat. Politicians are only one form of public figure influencing public opinion towards the BLM movement.
Celebrities and professional sports’ athletes also played an influential role in protests around the United States due to their central role in American entertainment. For instance, in the NBA, players boycotted two days of NBA playoff games after the death of Jacob Blake, a black man killed by police in the city of Milwaukee. NBA players negotiated for players to wear social justice statements on their backs before the playoffs had begun, and committed as a group to kneel during the national anthem to challenge systematic racism. The unjust death Jacob Blake incentivized the owners of the NBA to add stadiums as polling locations in the upcoming election to overcome voter suppression of minority individuals. Around the same time, they established a player coalition to help further the fight for social justice in the future and painted the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the basketball court. As expected, members of the Republican Party met these actions along with other forms of protest, such as kneeling during the national anthem, with backlash. Former President Trump said he would not be watching the NBA because, in his opinion, kneeling is disrespectful to the flag and he disagreed with the NBA becoming what he called a “political Organization” (Mannix, 2020).
Public support for the players during the protest dropped significantly in not only basketball but also other professional sports like football and baseball. A Gallup poll found that public support for the BLM protest in the sports world dropped from 45% in August to 30% in September. The poll also showed that white support dropped from 4 positive points to 22 negative points. This demonstrates the negative narrative surrounding both the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and the organization even with the powerful push by many in the professional sports world.
Opinion based on Race
Due to its historical use for division and suppression in the United States, race also played a key role in forming Americans’ opinion on the BLM movement. As previously mentioned, the movement against police brutality was named BLM due to the fact that black individuals were almost three times more likely to be killed by a police officer than their white counterpart was. According to a Pew Research poll in June of 2020, 86% of African Americans surveyed strongly supported the Black Lives movement and organization compared to 60% of whites, 77% of Hispanics, and 75% of Asians after the killings of George Floyd. In August and into September news coverage of riots became more apparent after the killing of Jacob Blake that caused the changes in public opinion shown in the next set of polling data. In September 87% of black people polled stilled supported the Black Lives Matter movement which was the only race to show growth in support. The other races saw large declines, especially in the White community, which saw support drop from 60% to 45%. This serves as evidence to describe the difference in opinions seen by different races in America. The data shows that Black people overwhelmingly feel like racism is occurring in America compared to other races, specifically white people (Thomas & Juliana Menasce Horowitz, 2020).
North Carolina Speaks
In North Carolina, the opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement was in some ways very similar to what was occurring nationally. North Carolina had experienced similar strife between police officers and protesters after the death of George Floyd. Statewide this resulted in nighttime curfews and locally resulted in many city councils meeting to discuss police reform. Many Republicans in the state legislative branch commented that these protests were riots and believed that police reform or defunding could lead to an increase in crime. Democrat Governor Roy Cooper in a series of tweets following the protest commented that the vast majority of people were nonviolent, peaceful, and there because they legitimately did not feel safe around police. He also commented on a very controversial statement on Twitter saying “Let me be clear about one thing: People are more important than property. Black Lives do Matter.” (Twitter 2020, Roy Cooper). To some, this signaled that the governor was okay with the violence when many businesses were being hurt by the small percentage of violent people at the protests. To the other side, it signaled that the governor was willing to help in the fight to change and pass legislation to help in the fight for racial justice. The Black Lives Matter movement and organization also encouraged many North Carolinians to demand the removal of Confederate monuments that in their opinion glorified the struggle of the African Americans they fought to keep in bondage. This was met with resistance from many white North Carolinians who believed these monuments were a part of the United States and North Carolina history which should not be taken because of recent actions. In some ways, this shows the divide between the races and political parties as polls showed that a majority of white republicans were opposed to removing the monuments; while a majority of black democrats were for the removal (Klar, 2020) (Duncan, 2020).
In a poll done in June by spectrum news, a majority of people in North Carolina said they supported the Black Lives Matter movement. A very similar majority also believed that racism was present in North Carolina. On the other hand, a majority of those surveyed did not favor the defunding of local police departments for the use of social programs. Many North Carolinians also believed the protests would not result in any meaningful change (Duncan, 2020). These polls show similarities with what people agreed with nationally in the United States.
In conclusion, the narrative around the Black Lives Matter movement and organization has changed as the political and social voice on the issue has changed. The difference in opinion is present in different political parties with both sides not compromising on any stance. Race also plays a role in the variance of opinions of both forms of BLM due to the polarization of the country especially on the issues of police reform, police brutality, and racism in America. A detailed look at North Carolina shows that while the Black Lives Matter Movement is supported the ideas and policies that it wanted to enact are not popular enough to gain traction, limiting the growth and following of the movement.
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