By ERRIN HAINES WHACK
Washington, DC – A coalition of more than 60 organizations affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement called for policing and criminal justice reforms in a list of demands released ahead of the second anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The agenda was released Monday by the Movement for Black Lives after both the Republican and Democratic conventions, during which Black Lives Matter activists were noticeably absent from protest lines. “We seek radical change, not reactionary reform,” Michaela Brown, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Bloc, one of the group’s partner organizations, said in a statement. “As the 2016 election continues, this platform provides us with a way to intervene with an agenda that resists state and corporate power, an opportunity to implement policies that truly value the safety and humanity of black lives, and an overall means to hold elected leaders accountable.”
The agenda outlines six demands and offers 40 recommendations on how to address them. To address criminal justice reform, for example, organizers are calling for an end to the type of militarized police presence seen at protests in cities like Ferguson, and the retroactive decriminalization and immediate release of all people convicted of drug offenses, sex work related offense and youth offenses.
The group also is calling for the passage of federal legislation, already proposed in Congress that would create a commission to study reparations for descendants of slaves.
This is the first time Black Lives Matter has articulated its demands. A year ago, groups held a two-day meeting in Cleveland in the wake of several high-profile killings of black men and boys by police. The shootings sparked racial tensions and protests that evolved into a national conversation about disparities in policing. Since then, the groups met to come up with the final agenda.
Fueled largely by social media, the Black Lives Matter movement has grabbed the attention of elected officials, including President Barack Obama – who has invited activists to the White House to discuss their grievances and possible solutions. Several police departments are currently under Justice Department review or reform.
Their efforts also have forced criminal justice reform and policing disparities to become election issues, and were credited, in part, with the ouster of district attorneys in Illinois and Ohio earlier this year.
Black Lives Matter also has drawn criticism and faced backlash from groups who say the organization is unfairly critical of – and even endangers – law enforcement. The counter slogan Blue Lives Matter has become a rallying cry, and even led to the passage of legislation in Louisiana to include the targeting of police officers in the state’s hate crime law, which was passed this spring and took effect Monday. The Black Lives Matter movement dates to 2012, but ignited two years later when 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, on August 9, 2014.
Releasing the platform near the anniversary of the Ferguson shooting is a powerful statement, said Dara Cooper, an organizer with the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, one of the partner groups. “It’s us saying that we’re not backing down,” she said. “In the tradition of our ancestors and elders who have been in this very long struggle, we’re going to keep working toward what we deserve.”
The platform represents an articulation of the collective state of black people that goes beyond policing, presented by the people who are being directly impacted in communities, Cooper said. “Black life is undervalued and assaulted in myriad ways,” Cooper said. “Policing and mass incarceration has so much to do with it, but it’s also the education we receive, the type of food we have access to, the ability to be self-determining through land ownership. We fight against things, but we also need to be fighting for something.”