News

Analysis: How The Black Lives Matter Movement Became More Popular Than Ever

People say this time, the Black Lives Matter protests feel different. There’s a lot of evidence that that’s true.

An aerial view of a 'Black Lives Matter' mural is seen on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York City on June 15, 2020. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
An aerial view of a 'Black Lives Matter' mural is seen on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York City on June 15, 2020. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

For the first time since Black Lives Matter protests began in 2013, a significant majority of Americans support the movement. The hashtag is being tweeted millions and millions of times daily, the most it’s ever been used. The demands of protesters have led to police chiefs resigning, Confederate statues being toppled, and city councils passing groundbreaking police reform, all at a rate not seen in the last seven years.

People say this time, the Black Lives Matter protests feel different. There’s a lot of evidence that that’s true.

The movement has never had the sustained popularity and solidarity globally, let alone in the U.S., that it’s seen since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25. 

And as police have lashed out at protesters nationwide and video of the killings of Black Americans have continued to go viral, adding another layer of trauma to generations of systemic injustice, the Black Lives Matter movement is only gaining momentum.  

 

National polls show clear majority support for Black Lives Matter

On May 31, less than a week after Floyd died, public support for the movement exceeded 50% for the first time in Civiqs research polls.

In a New York Times analysis published June 10, data reporters found that “in the last two weeks, American voters’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased almost as much as it had in the preceding two years.” Weeks’ worth of daily protests in cities across the U.S., as well as increasing attention on demands for justice in the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others as well as Floyd, tangibly shifted public opinion in a way not seen in previous years.

The movement started in 2013, founded by community organizers Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Since then, it’s erupted several times into the national consciousness, including following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City in 2014 at the hands of police. Over the years, different cities have seen their own major BLM protests. After officer Jason Stockley was acquitted in the killing of Black man Anthony Lamar Smith in St. Louis, Missouri in 2017, residents as well as faith leaders protested for several days.

In the midst of a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black Americans, public support for Black Lives Matter has hit an all-time high.

“Seven years ago, we were treated like we were too radical, too out of the bounds of what is possible,” BLM co-founder Garza told the New York Times. “And now, countless lives later, it’s finally seen as relevant.”

In their data analysis, the Times reporters noted that “though they started from different places, all kinds of voters moved sharply in the direction of supporting the movement,” breaking out demographics by party affiliation, age, and race. Other national polls also showed a record high, significant amount of support for BLM, even right-leaning pollsters like Rasmussen, who found the movement’s popularity at 62% in early June. Four years ago, Rasmussen found that only 37% of Americans approved of BLM.

A Washington Post-Schar School poll found similar trends in “how attitudes about police treatment of black Americans are changing dramatically.”

“More than 2 in 3 Americans (69 percent) say the killing of Floyd represents a broader problem within law enforcement … [which] marks a significant shift when compared with the reactions in 2014 to police killings on unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York,” the Post reported. “Six years ago, 43 percent described those deaths as indicative of broader problems in policing while 51 percent saw them as isolated incidents.”

As for the specific public reaction to Floyd’s death, a Monmouth University poll found that 78% of people polled believed protesters’ anger was partially or fully justified. Perhaps even more significantly, the pollster asked about the burning of a police precinct in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed—and 54% of people responded that the action was partially or fully justified.

"This time is different," in American culture, too

Besides the data, increased support for BLM and its mission has manifested itself in other ways: anti-racism books have been selling out for weeks; protests have spread to small-town America; NASCAR banned Confederate flags from all races and events; a sitting Republican senator marched with white evangelicals to say “Black Lives Matter,” something that had never happened before from that level of elected official. 

Most importantly, the increased support for the movement is lending itself to actual meaningful reform—something activists have been seeking for decades, long before the hashtag was even born. These changes didn’t happen overnight; they are the product of tireless, nonstop work by Black organizers for many years.

The Minneapolis City Council vowed to dismantle the city’s police department. Public schools there ended their contracts with the police department. Los Angeles and New York City announced millions of dollars in cuts to police budgets. Local and state officials have heeded the call of protesters and taken down Confederate statues and monuments to Christopher Columbus, in situations where protesters didn’t get there first. Governors and attorneys general all across the country are in the process of enacting reforms like requiring new certification for their state’s cops, disbanding notoriously aggressive police units, and reviewing use of force rules. 

And officials appear to feel the pressure to act immediately: after a police officer shot and killed 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta on June 12, the mayor announced that the officer had been fired and the police chief was resigning on June 13. Less than a week later, the county DA brought felony murder charges against the officer and said the other officer present was cooperating in interviews

State legislatures are now convening special sessions in order to enact reforms sooner rather than later. Activists hope to capitalize on the momentum and continue to demand real change to a system that has lacked accountability since inception. And though much work remains to be done—see the continuing, as-yet-unheeded calls to arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor—the Black Lives Matter movement can point to many, many significant achievements already.