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BLM: Movement for Criminal Justice Reform


The Black Lives Matter movement, born of the brutal police murders of Black men, has grown to become a dynamic force in the U.S., a continuation of the civil rights movement for racial acceptance, fair treatment, and equal opportunity.


Black Lives Matter started in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch participant, for shooting and killing teenager Trayvon Martin. Three activists, Opel Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors, protested the verdict on social media and came up with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.


This initial messaging campaign became a rallying cry for the creation of a decentralized social movement demanding police accountability and criminal justice reform. Since then, there have been a string of police shootings of unarmed Black citizens that have been highly publicized by the movement’s “Say Their Names” campaign including Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Breonna Taylor.


In May 2020, a Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, was placing George Floyd under arrest for suspicion of using false currency at a local business. Going outside acceptable police restraint tactics, Chauvin decided to kneel on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes suffocating him.


This act culminated in major protests, peaking on June 6th 2020 when half a million people demonstrated in nearly 550 locations around the country. Polls suggest that approximately 15 to 26 million people in the U.S. have participated in demonstrations, making Black Lives Matter the largest social movement in the nation’s history.


Redirecting Public Resources for Community Resilience

Leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement contend that the safest communities in America are places that do not experience constant police surveillance. These are neighborhoods where people have access to living wages, healthcare, quality public education, and freedom from police terror.


To start changing the system, activists support reducing municipal police budgets, contending that policing diverts billions of dollars from schools, healthcare, and other vital programs that need more funding to strengthen community resilience against criminal behavior. Consider that U.S. cities collectively spend $100 billion a year on policing and $80 billion on incarceration.


A few ideas to improve public safety by redirecting resources include withdrawing police departments from federal programs that provide military gear, denying pay to officers under investigation for using excessive force, removing officers from schools, and establishing non-police alternatives to 911 calls involving people with mental health needs or other forms of health crisis.


The BREATHE Act

Black Lives Matter supports the BREATHE Act, which would generally divest from policing and incarceration, end the War on Drugs, and reallocate that money toward building equitable local communities.


The BREATHE Act has three specific goals that must be accomplished before Black lives in the U.S. are being treated fairly. These goals include:

  1. Diverting federal resources from jails and police by eliminating federal programs used to support the criminal justice system. States can use Colorado’s “Community Reinvestment” model as an example, which will provide $12.8 million to community-based services in reentry, harm reduction, crime prevention, and for crime survivors.

  2. Creating federal grant programs that subsidize non-punitive approaches to rehabilitation. A promising model is Eugene, Oregon’s CAHOOTS program, which dispatches medical specialists rather than police to 911 calls related to addiction, mental health crises, and homelessness.

  3. Promoting educational justice by providing equal funding among all public schools, closing youth detention centers, and removing security guards and surveillance equipment from schools. One way to accomplish this is to divert funding from prison construction to education. A good example is Massachusetts bill S 2030/H 1905 (2021) that would establish a five-year moratorium on jail and prison expansion by prohibiting any public agency from building a new facility.

Positive Changes Due to Black Lives Matter

Due to the escalation and visibility of Black Lives Matter protests over the past few years, there have been many positive changes in our political system.


For one, a new generation of movement-aligned Back leaders has been elected to Congress including Cori Bush, Jamaal Brown, Ayanna Pressley, among others.


Secondly, communities already have won over $840 million in direct cuts from police departments and at least $160 million for investments in community services.


Third, 25 major cities have removed police from schools, saving and additional $34 million.


Also, multiple major cities have cut millions from police budgets and reallotted these funds to community-based violence prevention programs, emergency medical services, mental health first responders, services for homeless people, workforce development, and victim support. For instance, the city of Austin, TX previously spent 40 percent of its budget on the police; it now spends 26 percent.


Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is vibrant and searching for real alternatives to our exploding prison-industrial complex. Any liberty-minded American should listen closely and support the movement in pushing for a major institutional restructuring of our broken criminal justice system.


Dr. Jeremy Holland is a sociology professor at Horry-Georgetown Technical College, Conway, SC and writes frequently for Lean to the Left.

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