Throughout history, collective mobilizations from community-based campaigns to the American civil rights movement have led to a profound transformation in a wide variety of contexts and societies. The unified efforts of the masses have continued to create a powerful human resource used for various purposes, such as rebellion or struggle against subordination, and oppression, as observed in indigenous peoples’ resistance to colonialism.
Even in the 21st century, the surge of such collective actions by ordinary citizens has been witnessed in various parts of the world. In this regard, since 2013, hundreds of grassroots demonstrations have happened across Australia, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States under the banner of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The BLM movement is a response to the increasing views that racism is a growing social problem in society. This paper analyzes and synthesizes various media sources to illustrate how media outlets cover and portray the image and activities of the BLM movement to the public.
The public support and perception of the BLM crusade are influenced by how news outlets in the United States and the world cover its protests. In this case, media framing plays a critical role in shaping the public attitude of the movement protests based on their coverage. Maqbool’s (2020) article indicates that since George Zimmerman’s exoneration, after killing Trayvon Martin (an unarmed black teenager) in Florida, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter post has gained traction and created BLM movement in many countries. The entire article shows how BLM has become a trend and a platform for activists advocating for police reforms.
The BLM movement has enabled individuals to express their complex emotions in response to several high-profile cases where black people died at the hands of law enforcement. Campbell (2021) and Silverstein (2021) make a sensational claim that BLM is the largest movement in the United States’ history and the world. It is estimated that over 26 million people have participated in BLM protests inside the country alone. These authors debunk anti-BLM supporters’ opinions that the movement is a hate group with nothing to do with black people. They draw attention to the massive issues of racism and police brutality, especially in the United States. These include the death of Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Michael Brown, among others.
The institutional racism prevalent in most parts of the world has increased the support for and identification with the BLM movement. The articles by Buchanan et al. (2020) and Silverstein (2021) highlight how the BLM has made a massive impact on the fight against racism. The authors show that besides BLM fighting intolerance and injustices that black people face, it has morphed into a vital, multi-issue movement in the country and beyond.
It has evolved from the micro-scale of everyday forms of resistance in small groups to the macro-scale of mobilization spreading worldwide. It is a global network with Chapters of BLM spread across the country and in other nations, with massive protests in Canada, Australia, and Europe (Maqbool, 2020). Almeida (2019) describes a New Social Movement (NSM) as an initiative that concentrates on the grievances and issues of a specific collective (59). In this case, BLM can best be described as NSM. It focuses more on culture, racial identity, inequality, feminism, mental health, and LGBTQ rights. Thus, it does not fit the traditional definition of social movements fighting mainly for material and economic benefits.
When showing BLM protests, some sources tend to focus on the confrontation where the police counter unarmed protesters with lethal force. Such coverage has increased criticism for police actions, support for these individuals, and identification with the movement. Different news outlets have continued to use frames to influence how the public portrays the BLM. They call attention to racial inequalities, LGBTQ, and gender issues (Buchanan et al., 2020; Campbell, 2021).
These materials contain a liberal frame that highlights violations of African Americans’ rights. As a result, such information usually riles up black communities to demand social justice based on the individual rights enshrined in the Constitution. These articles also share videos and pictures of different people, such as sports personalities taking a knee, musicians performing, celebrities, and other people protesting in support of the BLM movement (Maqbool, 2020; Campbell, 2021; Silverstein, 2021). These initiatives have continued to give momentum to the target audience and engage in collective action.
Reports that only focuses on tactics employed by supporters affect the image and support for the movement. How the mainstream media cover events may make them be perceived as anti-BLM because they often gravitate towards the protests’ most vivid and dramatic actions. These include violent rioting, looting, street vandalism, and other unlawful acts. Smith (2020) and Carlson (2020) have branded BLM’s protests as cult-like tactics and its members as criminals. In this case, the movement is viewed as a hate group and does not benefit the black people but only drives their political agenda and blames the police.
However, the facts that Smith presents are compelling and do a great job indicating that ‘defunding the police’ cannot reduce their misconduct. The policy changes that he proposes may be realistic because reducing allocation to law enforcement may negatively impact officers’ response to crimes, especially in the black American neighborhoods, which may eventually hurt them. The authors imply that most BLM supporters are criminals seeking to cripple law enforcement to lower their chance of being caught and commit more crimes.
How stories are framed affects the public perception of BLM and whether to support it. Smith’s (2020) and Carlson’s (2020) sentiments do not acknowledge that the audience may have a different viewpoint. Their views contradict other publications showing that over 93% of BLM campaigns have been peaceful with no serious harm to people or damage to property (Beckett, 2020; Chenoweth & Pressman, 2020). Thus, contrary to the authors’ arguments, some of the concerns they mention may be isolated cases carried out by a small fraction of the protesters or opportunists who have nothing to do with the movement. In such scenarios, the movement’s supporters are often portrayed as a deviant out-group, increasing the support for and the identification with the law enforcement.
In conclusion, although BLM has been used to dissent against police brutality and unfair treatment of black people, it has transformed into a multi-purpose outfit to express views and fight for other people’s rights. In the midst of all these developments, BLM activities worldwide have been perceived differently. Some people view it as a vehicle to fight intolerance and injustices against black communities, while others view it as a hate group whose aim is to gain political power and cripple law and order.
Different media publications have helped shape these conflicting opinions across populations. There are sources known to highlight heinous racial injustices committed by police that BLM aims to eradicate and create fairness in the court process. These types of news have helped the movement get more adherents and drive them to initiate social change. However, acts of civil disobedience portrayed by some media outlets often breed social contempt for BLM’s protests and a lack of recognition for its positive benefits.
Almeida, P. (2019). Social movements: The structure of collective mobilization. University of California.
Beckett, L. (2020). Nearly all Black Lives Matter protests are peaceful despite Trump narrative, report finds. The Guardian. Web.
Buchanan, L., Bui, O., & Patel, J.K. (2020). Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in U.S. history. The New York Times. Web.
Campbell, A. (2021). What is Black Lives Matter and what are the aims. BBC News. Web.
Carlson, T. (2020). Black Lives Matter is now a powerful political party and has nothing to do with black lives. Fox News. Web.
Chenoweth, E., & Pressman, J. (2020). This summer’s Black Lives Matter protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful, our research finds. Washington Post. Web.
Maqbool, A. (2020). Black Lives Matter: From social media post to global movement. BBC News. Web.
Silverstein, J. (2021). The global impact of George Floyd: How Black Lives Matter protests shaped movements around the world. CBS News. Web.
Smith, R. (2021). Black Lives Matter doesn’t really care about black lives lost unless group can blame police. Fox News. Web.