Social Justice Agenda Targets Political Parties

Ahead of the second anniversary of the fatal police shooting of an unarmed Black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, that touched off a wave of protests nationwide, a coalition of more than 60 organizations affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement has issued a list of demands calling for policing and criminal justice reforms.

The agenda, titled “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice” was released Monday by the Movement for Black Lives. The platform also comes after both the Republican and Democratic conventions, during which Black Lives Matter activists were noticeably absent from protest lines.

“We seek radical transformation, not reactionary reform,” Michaela Brown, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Bloc, one of the group’s partner organizations, said in a statement. “As the 2016 election continues, this platform provides us with a way to intervene with an agenda that resists state and corporate power, an opportunity to implement policies that truly value the safety and humanity of Black lives, and an overall means to hold elected leaders accountable.”

The agenda outlines six demands and offers 40 recommendations on how to address them. To address criminal justice reform, for example, movement organizers are calling for an end to the type of militarized police presence seen at protests in cities like Ferguson, and the retroactive decriminalization and immediate release of all people convicted of drug offenses, sex work related offense and youth offenses.

The group also is calling for the passage of a bill that would create a commission to study reparations for descendants of slaves.

The move marks the first time the movement has articulated its demands and has faced pressure to do so.

The Black Lives Matter movement dates back to 2012, but ignited two years later when 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, on August 9, 2014. The incident, followed by other killings of Black men and boys at the hands of police in cities including Baltimore and Cleveland, sparked racial tensions and weeks of protests that evolved into a national conversation about disparities in policing.

Releasing the platform near the anniversary of the Ferguson shooting is a powerful statement, said Dara Cooper, an organizer with the National Black Food & Justice Alliance, one of the partner groups.

“It’s us saying that we’re not backing down,” she said. “In the tradition of our ancestors and elders who have been in this very long struggle, we’re going to keep working toward what we deserve.”

The platform represents an articulation of the collective state of black people that goes beyond policing, presented by the people who are being directly impacted in communities, Cooper said.

“Black life is undervalued and assaulted in myriad ways,” Cooper said. “Policing and mass incarceration has so much to do with it, but it’s also the education we receive, the type of food we have access to, the ability to be self-determining through land ownership. … We fight against things, but we also need to be fighting for something.”

Fueled largely by social media, the movement has grabbed the attention of elected officials, including President Barack Obama – who has invited activists to the White House to discuss their grievances and possible solutions. Their efforts also have forced the issues of criminal justice reform and policing disparities into the 2016 election cycle, and were credited, in part, with the ouster of district attorneys in Illinois and Ohio earlier this year.