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It was a bright, cool day when three female BYU students walked into the open-aired grove located in the middle of the Joseph Smith Building on the campus of Brigham Young University. One student had a Black Lives Matter shirt gripped in her hand, another wearing a shirt that had huge letters across the chest area that read “Nah,” and at the lower end of the shirt that read “Rosa Parks.” All three students opened up about their experiences of being Black Lives Matter supporters, black students at a majority-caucasian campus and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Melodie Jackson, a sophomore and American studies major, from Vicksburg, Mississippi, said she believes black people are still fighting for basic human rights.
“I like to think of the Black Lives Matter movement as an extension of the civil rights movement — it never ended,” Jackson said.
The civil rights movement from the 1950s and 1960s was the response to unfair treatment towards blacks. Activists rebelled against designated seats on a bus, segregated restrooms and drinking fountains, and barriers regarding voting laws and rights. Members of the movement wanted change and racial equality.
According to the American National Election Studies in 1964, reported by Vox, 57 percent of Americans in 1964 said most of black people’s actions during the civil rights movement were violent. Additionally, 63 percent of Americans in 1964 believed the civil rights movement was moving “too fast.”
There was a lot of media coverage during most of 2016 about this new civil rights movement. It was very prevalent in the summer of 2016, after a few police shootings resulted in protests around the country.
Around September 2016, the mainstream media started to focus almost solely on the 2016 Presidential election, seemingly leaving this issue alone.
The most well-known group participating in the civil rights movement of today is the Black Lives Matter movement. Angela Reed is an active member of the movement.
“The Black Lives Matter movement was started to bring awareness and change to the justice system that has been failing the minority communities,” she said.
The movement originated as a hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen in Florida. The group compares themselves to the civil rights movement of old: they want change, justice and equal rights.
Jodian Grant, a junior and communications disorders major, from Sicklerville, New Jersey, said she believes the Black Lives Matter movement shows how far the black community has gone, but also shows how much further they need to go.
“It’s giving a voice to the struggles of like present-day black Americans and what they face and what they go through,” Grant said.
BYU Students’ Perspective
Melodie Jackson, Jodian Grant and Krystal Scott share their experiences of being Black Lives Matter supporters, black students at a majority-white campus and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Brandon Klatskin)
Krystal Scott, a junior and public health major, from North Little Rock, Arkansas, said her experience as a black student at BYU has been eye-opening one, but it has overall been positive and has helped her grow.
“You become fully aware that you are different than other people in like every kind of setting,” Scott said.
Grant also said she believes her experience has been a positive one.
“I always say I wasn’t aware of my race,” Grant said. “Yes, I knew I was black, but I wasn’t aware of like the stereotypes associated with that. I wasn’t aware of how others could perceive that until I came to BYU.”
Jackson said she believes the BYU administration needs to hear the black perspective, because she believes it’s not being heard.
“After my mission, quote me on this, I became more woke,” Jackson said. “I’m from Mississippi. I knew I was black, but I’ve never been in such a white space as BYU. BYU is the whitest space I’ve ever been in. And so I became super aware of my blackness here.”
Jackson also wore her Black Lives Matter shirt on campus knowing she would get a lot of stares, but said she didn’t care about that sort of thing anymore.
In relation to her Black Lives Matter support, Scott said people, not just BYU students, have made comments to her saying that it was against her faith to support such a movement, and she is not a really good member of the Church by showing her support.
“We are members of the Church, but we’re also black,” Scott said. “This is our experience, and like this is who we are, so it’s kind of like people are denying you a right to be yourself.”
Jackson said being at BYU has taught her to be more aware of her blackness in relation to being a member of the Church.
“I’m pretty sure I struggle with this, but now I’m discovering how to articulate how hard it is to be a black, Mormon woman in the Church,” Jackson said. “It’s so hard.”
Grant said her faith should help empower social justice, not the other way around, since all are children of God, and should have a great life here on earth.
“(Melodie) said that sometimes people think that if you’re a member of the Church why are you an activist? Like why do you care about these things? But really it should be like, ‘We should be active in these causes because we’re members of the Church,’” said Grant.
Jackson said she is annoyed others think she is the voice of black people when she speaks.
“Don’t hold me accountable for what black people believe,” she said.
The State of Utah
Pertaining to what people in Utah can be doing to help bring about change regarding police brutality, Anna Brower, a public policy advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said people can get to know local law enforcement officers so people can “understand (police officers’) experience better.”
Utah Against Police Brutality hosted an informational community even regarding citizens rights. They invited CopWatch and the American Civil Liberties Union to speak. (Brandon Klatskin)
The Standard Examiner, a news organizations based out of Ogden, Utah, made a video series called Face to Face, where black Utah citizens were able to sit with white police officers to share thoughts about race.
They also published a video in which the same participants were able to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Everybody’s struggling with how to deal with these really complicated, sometimes scary issues,” Brower said. “Especially in Utah, I do feel that members of the community and members of government are making good-faith efforts to try to get to a better place. That doesn’t mean we always know exactly what to do, but I think there are a lot of good-hearted people that are doing their best.”
Jeanetta Williams is the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Salt Lake Branch, as well as President of the NAACP Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah. The NAACP is a Civil Rights Organization founded February 12, 1909. The NAACP Salt Lake Branch was founded February 1919.
“Our goals are to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination,” Williams said.
Some of the top concerns the NAACP has for black Utah citizens is making sure they are educated and they stay out of the judiciary system. Williams said race relations in Utah can be subtle, but overall she believes blacks feel welcome in Utah.
“Folks think that the NAACP membership is only for African Americans but that is not the case,” she said. “Everyone, regardless of ethnic background can be a member of the NAACP. Everyone who believes in equality is encouraged to join.”
Williams said the NAACP has college chapters around the country and in Utah, and they are working to set up a BYU Chapter.
The black liberation theology began around the civil rights movement in the 60s and is a religious framework for reading scripture that teaches God is with the black community to help them through their struggle for freedom from oppression.
“Black liberation theology is looking at what Jesus had to say primarily about liberation and freedom and applying that to the word of God as the guiding principle for understanding what Jesus’s mission was, and that also would apply to the Old Testament in the Book of Exodus when it talks about the children of Israel being set free by Moses from Egyptian bondage,” said Pastor France Davis, of Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Blue Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter movement may be misunderstood at times, especially with the
groups All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter (meaning the lives of police officers)
in play. Police officers have played a large role in discussions about racial
treatment and injustice in America.
In the middle of the summer of 2016, during which some black individuals were killed
by police, the city of Dallas held a peaceful march. However, a sniper shot and
killed five Dallas police officers during the march. In an interview with the
New York Times, Dallas Police Chief David Brown called for a stop to the divisiveness between the police and citizens.
“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown said, in a press conference following the Dallas shooting,
Many are pointing to the Dallas incident as further incentive for legislative change
sanctioning police power, and on August 1, 2016, a bill took effect in Louisiana, called the “Blue Lives Matter” bill. This bill means states it is now considered a hate crime if
an act of violence is committed against police officers and first responders.
As of March 24, 2017, Kentucky is the second state to pass such a bill.
However, Reed said she believes there needs to be a nationwide revamp of police training.
According to the Washington Post, whites make up about 62 percent of the U.S.
population, but whites only constitute about 49 percent of those killed by
police officers. Blacks, who only make up 13 percent of the population, make up
24 percent of those killed by police. The article concludes that blacks are 2.5
times as likely to be shot and killed by police.
Also, the Washington Post has a real-time database that tracks individuals who were shot by the police in 2015 and 2016. Based on their reports, in 2015, 991 people were
shot and killed by police officers, and 963 were shot and
killed in 2016.
All Lives Matter
The group All Lives Matter was created in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“When somebody says ‘all lives matter,’ it presumes that there is no particular racist history going on,” said Stephen Christian, a member of Utah Against Police Brutality.
Grant said it is true all lives matter, but the Black Lives Matter is focusing on the black struggle, not diminishing other people’s lives.
“It just kind of shows almost like an ignorance when people say that,” Grant said.
Jackson said All Lives Matter is a color-blind ideology that believes in not seeing color, but doing so doesn’t fix or address the problem; it just puts a Band-Aid over it.
“By saying all lives matter, you’re saying the black struggle really doesn’t matter, because like hey, everyone else is struggling too,” Jackson said.
With all of these different movements, Christian recommends people figure out what the purpose of the movements.
“Ask, ‘What are they trying to convey with their messages and with their actions?’ rather than having a knee-jerk response to certain slogans or activities that you come across in the media or just personally,” said Christian. “What can you do to empower the community, so it’s no longer this repetitive cycle of violence?”
Riots and Controversies
Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Terence Crutcher. Kendrec McDade.
All of those black men were killed by police officers, which ensued Black Lives Matter demonstrations in many cities across America.
After the July 2016 deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, riots broke out. The Black Lives Matter movement led marches and demonstrations for both Sterling and Castile.
The website Elephrame keeps up-to-date information about how many Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations there have been. In just under three years, there has been nearly 2,000 Black Lives Matter protests.
Some Black Lives Matter rallies have garnered criticism regarding the conduct of their demonstrations. One particular rally was blocking a sidewalk, and when a white man tried to walk through, he was denied, and had to turn around and go a different route.
A woman at a different rally told the marchers that all the white people needed to move to the back if they wanted to participate.
Scott said she believes the media could spend more time focusing on black individuals struggling, living in ghettos and incarcerated — instead of riots and protests.