The #BlackLivesMatter movement, as told by and through social media – and what does it mean for black Africans?

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, US on July 9, 2016. (Reuters, Jonathan Bachman)

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, US on July 9, 2016. (Reuters, Jonathan Bachman)

Across the Atlantic Ocean, far far away from the protests in the US, the ideas, and nuances of the #BlackLivesMatter movement are being shared with South Africans – and the world at large – through social media. People across the African continent are already questioning what space they have in the American-based movement. So far, this is what social media posts from the States are telling us about the movement:

Violence versus non-violence

In the wake of the Dallas shooting, where 5 police officers were gunned down at a #BlackLivesMatter protest last week, some activists in the movement have determinedly worked to show that the marches have been peaceful. The sniper who shot the police officers said he hated #BlackLivesMatter, but nonetheless, the movement has been associated with the killings.

Whose lives matter

Many people are reaching *yawn* status when it comes to explaining why #BlackLivesMatter. A t-shirt of a protester maybe said it best: being pro-black isn’t anti-white.

But wait, which black lives?

South Sudan is on the brink of civil war and Zimbabwe has woken up loud and clear  in protest against Mugabe’s long-standing dictatorship. How do these battles fit into #BlackLivesMatter? Already, solidarity protests are being planned for #BlackLivesMatter in Cape Town, but whether the international community will show the same allegiance to people on the African continent remains to be seen.

Some suspects are more suspect than others

When Dylann Roof was identified as the shooter behind the Charleston shooting, where nine people were killed in a mass shooting at a black church, he was hauled off to jail where he now awaits trial in 2017. Micah Xavier Johnson, the Dallas shooter who reportedly killed five police officers, didn’t exactly get the same treatment: the cops sent in a robot with a bomb, detonated it near Johnson, killing him. The lethal use of force wasn’t lost on social media commentators.

The revolution will be photographed

A photo of Leshia Evans, a protester for #BlackLivesMatter, has gone viral, with people pointing out Evans’s lack of armour against militarised police officers. Jonathan Bachman, a photographer covering the protest for Reuters,  captured the image as Evans refused to leave the road she was blocking with protesters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana over the weekend. 

Evans’s resilience is maybe written in the movement itself as it continues to march on, drawing solidarity with the international community as it does so. One thing some South Africans might ask though, is do victims of police brutality here at home have a space to demand better in #BlackLivesMatter?

 
Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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