I Am Puerto Rican and Black Lives Matter

Juan Cartagena

In 2013, immediately after a jury in Florida exonerated George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, allegedly in self-defense, three Black women created a new movement on social media.

This was the genesis of the digital movement called #BlackLivesMatter which was inaugurated on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Hundreds of thousands of persons repeated the phrase, many of them as a way to signal that the treatment of people of color, especially by the police, was at a crisis stage. Others embraced the phrase as a marker of hope for a community victimized by racism.

Indeed, what started with the leadership of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, captured the attention of the nation. They never claimed that the lives of other people were not important. So I must say that I am Puerto Rican and black lives matter.

Afterwards came the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in Staten Island, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Walter Scott in Charleston and Sandra Bland in Texas, and many others. Now the saying became an educational vehicle in the Black community to expose the daily crisis that would now be revealed by video footage taken by courageous witnesses.

The movement never advocated for violence against the police. That clarification was worth noting so I must say that I am Latino and black lives matter.

The digital movement initially and deservedly focused on police brutality. But soon #BlackLivesMatter also questioned the institutional racism that continues to marginalize people of color, the mass incarceration that destroys Black families and the failure of immigration reform with its particularly harmful effects for immigrants of color from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. If the deaths of Black civilians at the hands of police was the symptom the causes were rooted in government institutions.

These women expanded the movement's focus. And with good reason I admit so I repeat that I have had my own experiences with racism and Black Lives Matter.

With everything that has come to light in the last two years in the African-American community there are still people who question the legitimacy of the saying black lives matter. Some would claim that it's racist against whites. Others that it is anti-police.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in his weekly sprouting of idiocies, claims that #BlackLivesMatter instigates violence against the police. He even blames President Obama for fomenting this violence and illegality in the Black community. Obviously, Christie is projecting a level of desperation in the face of low standings in polls of Republican voters.

But he and others have nurtured the foundation for the question I was recently asked in Washington, DC. Do black lives matter? Or do all lives matter?

I have been a civil rights attorney for more than 30 years, and I still will never be able to totally comprehend what it must be like being a Black man in the middle of a police encounter in this country.

So I say, emphatically, that black lives matter.


This article was originally published in Huffington Post, you can read the full article here

Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF

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