Black Lives Matter Founders Describe 'Paradigm Shift' In The Movement : Code Switch "We're part of a movement that's been happening for hundreds of years, and this just happens to be a tipping point," says Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders.
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Black Lives Matter Founders Describe 'Paradigm Shift' In The Movement

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Black Lives Matter Founders Describe 'Paradigm Shift' In The Movement

Black Lives Matter Founders Describe 'Paradigm Shift' In The Movement

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The Black Lives Matter movement was formed three years ago today. We're about to hear from three women who were there from the beginning. The phrase Black Lives Matter first came up in a frustrated Facebook post in response to the George Zimmerman case. A jury acquitted him after he killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Then Black Lives Matter became a hash tag and soon a national movement.

I spoke to founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. This third anniversary comes a week after two black men died in police shootings and five officers were killed during a peaceful protest of those shootings. I asked the women to begin by describing what this moment means to them.

ALICIA GARZA: This is Alicia. I would describe this moment for the movement as a real paradigm shift. It is a indicator of what is to come. But it also, I think, points to the agency that we have, collectively, to change our conditions. I think if we demonstrate a collective commitment and a collective practice to changing not just how police and policing happens in this country, but certainly to changing the conditions that black communities are living and existing in, then we have a real shot for living in a world that is more just, more equitable - in a world where black lives actually do matter.

SHAPIRO: Patrisse, Opal, do each of you see this as a paradigm shift, a turning point for the Black Lives Matter movement?

OPAL TOMETI: is Yeah. This Opal. So I do see this as a very real turning point for the movement. What we're witnessing right now is a deepening level of commitment from people of conscience from all different walks of life. We're seeing a really vibrant, multiracial movement for Black Lives. And we're seeing it evidenced by the people who still committed to being in the streets this weekend, even though we did experience a shift in the narrative and a shift in the understanding of what was happening because of the really unfortunate and sad events in Dallas.

SHAPIRO: But, Patrisse, how do you respond to critics who say that, in some ways, the Black Lives Matter movement might have created a less safe environment for police - may be in part responsible for what happened in Dallas?

PATRISSE CULLORS: I think all of us inside of this movement have a deep understanding that what happened in Dallas was a tragedy and that we also can hold the tension of what continues to happen in black communities, which is being brutalized, killed and abused by the state, often at the hands of law enforcement. And so I think people are smart enough to be able to understand that both things are tragic, but - not but - and that we can't be deterred from fighting for black lives. The conversation about Black Lives Matter is an age-old conversation. You know, we talk about this movement really blossoming in the last three years. But we often - the three of us - talk about that we - we're part of a movement that's been happening for hundreds of years, and this just happens to be a tipping point.

SHAPIRO: As a movement, many of the leaders of Black Lives Matter have talked about the need to change both the culture and policies. And I wonder which front you think has seen more change in the last three years.

GARZA: This is Alicia. So I think where there's been the most movement, in my opinion, in a positive direction has been the culture change realm. And I think that we're still - we still have a ways to go in terms of really good policy. With all of that being said, though, culture change is necessary for good policy change to happen. And so in that way, it feels like we're in the right place at the right time.

TOMETI: Hey, Ari. This is Opal. I actually wanted to weigh in on that last question, as well.

SHAPIRO: Sure. Yeah.

TOMETI: One of the things that I want to raise here is that we have seen a lot of attention being paid to what's going on in the United States from people in the international community. We've seen solidarity actions and protests and demonstrations all across the globe - just this past weekend, where we saw people in London, in Berlin, in Amsterdam, in South Africa really rise up and show their solidarity with black people in the United States. And I want to also note that I was just at the United Nations speaking before the General Assembly yesterday, which is, you know, historic.

SHAPIRO: Can I ask you about the phrase All Lives Matter, which many people outside of the Black Lives Matter movement have adopted? They say it's a less racially specific way of saying that life is important no matter who you're talking about. How do you respond to that?

GARZA: When we say all lives matter, we're talking about aspirations that don't exist right now. All lives do not matter. Not everybody has what they need to ensure their basic survival. And so when we say black lives matter, we didn't ever say only black lives. What we said is black lives matter, also - right? - that if we want a world where all lives matter, then we need to fight like hell for black lives.

SHAPIRO: The last question I would like to ask you is given all of the momentum that your movement has right now, given all of the attention being paid to Black Lives Matter, on this, the third anniversary, what is one tangible thing that you would like to see this inertia lead to in the short term?

CULLORS: Yeah. This is Patrisse. It's hard to say the one thing, but I do know that what feels most resonant at this moment is a call for defunding police departments. And the rationale behind that is in my city Los Angeles, 52 percent of the budget - of the city's budget - is going to law enforcement. And yet our communities are suffering. Our communities are living in poverty.

And so I think there is this real demand at this moment that's being lifted up around what is - what are we prioritizing? And how are we understanding public safety? And whose lives are continued to be sacrificed? And so that's something that we have to call for. We have to call on our elected officials to show up for black people. And that is at the local level, that's at the state level, and that's at the national level.

SHAPIRO: Alicia, I'm sure you agree with the things that have been said before. Is there anything else you would like to see come out of this moment?

GARZA: I think I would like to see some truth and reconciliation, to be honest with you. I think that there are lots of families right now who are really hurting and who are going to need long-term support as we kind of fight to win the things that we deserve.

We also have to pay attention to the trauma that is being carried by our communities and has been carried through generations. We need a massive investment in our people and a massive disinvestment in the state mechanisms that are killing our people. And part of that investment, I think, is paying attention to what does it look like to reconcile this country's violent past, its violent present so that we can transform our future into something that is built on care, that is built on connection and interdependence.

SHAPIRO: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi - three founders of the Black Lives Matter movement - thank you to all of you.

CULLORS: Thank you.

GARZA: Thank you.

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