Where does the Black Lives Matter movement go from here?

Mike Bebernes
·Senior Editor
·6 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

This Saturday marks two months since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked a nationwide movement toward racial justice.

In some ways, the U.S. is still in the grip of the response to Floyd’s death, which may have spawned the largest social movement in American history. There are still daily protests in many cities across the country. Bold statements calling for justice from public figures continue to pour in. Every day seems to bring news of another Confederate statue being taken down, a brand retiring its racially insensitive product name or an executive stepping down over accusations of bias.

At the same time, the days when Black Lives Matter dominated the national conversation can feel like distant history. Though the protests in some places never stopped, they’ve been pushed from the headlines by the recent surge in coronavirus cases. Today, discussion of the protests focuses almost exclusively on the Trump administration’s use of federal authorities in Portland, Ore., rather than the issues that brought people into the streets in the first place. Momentum for police reform, which led to action in at least 16 states in the first half of June, has become bogged down by disagreements over the best way to address the issue and partisan resistance to change.

Why there’s debate

Two months after Floyd’s death, the Black Lives Matter movement is in a period of transition. For one, there has been an undeniable shift in public opinion on race and the appetite for widespread systemic reform has grown. But the days when protests alone were enough to consume the nation’s focus are over. The next few months will likely be a critical period in determining whether Black Lives Matter is able to create the kind of substantive changes brought about by the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

One of the most important goals for many activists is maintaining a sense of urgency even though the news cameras may have moved on. Floyd’s death may have felt like a singular, catalyzing event, but the quiet work done by organizations over several years set the stage for what became a national movement. The key to ending systemic racism will be turning the energy of the early days of protest into a sustained lifestyle, activists say.

Others warn against the complacency that may set in from symbolic victories like the toppling of Confederate monuments or the renaming of brands. Although these moves are welcome, they can create the illusion of progress while leaving the systems that create racial inequities intact.

Many argue that the true test of the movement will come at the ballot box. The upcoming election in November will show how committed the broader public is to ending systemic racism. Regardless of who is in power in 2021, there are likely to be extended debates over the scale of legislative solutions between those who prefer to adjust the current systems and those who want to establish something new.


The movement can’t stop at police reform

“The policy responses to the protests have thus far been singularly focused on police brutality. … But to be effective, efforts to combat systemic racism must stretch as far as the inequality itself does.” — Adam Harris, The Atlantic

Elections will show how viable the movement’s long-term goals are

“The next few weeks and months will test whether the movement can translate its social and cultural might into political power.” — Charlotte Alter, Time

There will be political backlash that needs to be overcome

“The demonstrations brought some new people into their movement and cemented the issue as a high priority for a major political party — which is more than most protests accomplish. But police reform isn’t yet on an unstoppable path. … If Joe Biden wins and tries to enact police reform legislation, he’ll need to formulate his proposal with care — or risk provoking serious backlash from the public.” — David Byler, Washington Post

Symbolic victories can’t take the place of systemic change

“It’s nice to see the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted in streets across America, but we will not be satisfied until this country makes the changes that result in true healing, restitution, equity and inclusion — or even more plainly, liberty and justice for all.” — Tykeia N. Robinson, Essence

The next step is creating a public consensus on the best solutions to racial injustice

“Despite the increased recognition of discrimination faced by racial minority groups in America, the country remains deeply divided on the root causes of racism.” — Carrie Dann, NBC News

The moment to create real change was squandered

“Every meaningful effort at police reform has been turned aside in favor of frivolous, ostentatious, and irrelevant self-flagellation. Turns out, it’s much easier to burn books and shame your peers than it is to effect real change.” — Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

Lack of media coverage might give the impression that the movement has subsided

“Some people do get their political cues from what makes its way into the general public discourse, which is largely shaped by what’s in the news, so media blackouts or withdrawals can give them the impression that either the ‘newsworthy part’ of the protests has expired or that there are simply no more events to be covered.” — Political scientist Kanisha Bond to Vox

The movement risks alienating sympathetic voices if it shuts down disagreement

“There will be no resolution of America’s many social problems if free thought and free speech are no longer upheld in our public sphere. Without them, honest deliberation, mutual learning and the American problem-solving ethic are dead.” — Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wall Street Journal

Systemic change always runs up against deeply entrenched power structures

“If a change is indeed coming, we have not yet seen the shape of it — and the enemy we are facing is powerful beyond measure. Understanding this truth and persisting nonetheless is how we will save ourselves.” — Roxane Gay, New York Times

Change comes gradually, through a sustained commitment over the course of decades

“Those of us who have been at this for a long time know that the fight for equal rights is a lifelong commitment, not a summer job.” — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Times

Finding common cause with other movements will make Black Lives Matter more powerful

“In some cases, the Movement for Black Lives is also a voice for other justice movements that seek to change the social, economic, and political rules. This intersection and ascendance of multiple intertwined movements is cause for great hope for this moment to lead to transformative change.” — K. Sabeel Rahman and Dorian T. Warren, The Nation

The various factions of the movement must reach agreement on the best legislative solutions

“A significant gap remains between the activist community — especially young activists — that has led the protests and pushed public opinion, and a Democratic establishment, now led by former vice president Joe Biden, that has been cautious in its commitments beyond police reform. — Dan Balz, Washington Post

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