Five years after the birth of Black Lives Matter (BLM,) an organization that was created after the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, the group has grown to 35 active chapters and thousands of people across America, London and Toronto.
California State University, Los Angeles professor Dr. Melina Abdullah, a member of the local Los Angeles chapter of BLM, said the group still focuses on its original mission, protesting police violence. But it has also branched out to other causes, such as bail and prison reform, educational justice and “buying black.”
“We feel encouraged to have grown into a movement,” said Abdullah, who chairs the Pan African Studies department.
Although the group doesn’t get as much publicity as it did a few years ago, Black Lives Matter- LA is still active in local political issues such as protesting the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors’ plan to spend $3.5 billion on a new jail.
BLM also stages regular protests at Police Commission meetings. The group also protests the lack of accountability for local police violence. Abdullah said BLM-LA holds regular demonstrations at Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office. These protests are designed to raise awareness about the fact police have killed 400 people, over the last five years, but not one officer has been prosecuted.
Another issue that BLM is addressing is homelessness. Abdullah said the local government’s solution to the problem is to increase policing on Skid Row. But she said that doesn’t address the real problem, which is affordable housing.
According to Abdullah, BLM activists are “abolitionists,” meaning they believe in destroying the root causes of problems, not opting for band-aid solutions. For example, she said BLM would rather have the Board of Supervisors spend the money allocated for the jail on improving mental health services.
However, Abdullah said that one of the main successes of Black Lives Matter is calling for accountability for police violence.
BLM has also had to adjust to life in the era of President Donald Trump, who Abdullah says uses “white supremacist rhetoric” and pushes “white supremacist policies.”
Abdullah says she has noticed an increase in police monitoring of Black Lives Matter activities through cell phone and social media. She said activists can tell when police use Stingray, a system which monitors cell phone communications, because the power on their cell phones drops. And she said police seem to be monitoring social media, because they have shown up with barriers for some of their protests.