Black Lives Matter: A primer on what it is and what it …

Speaking from Madrid, President Obama said the Black Lives Matter movement shouldn't be judged by the actions of a few non-peaceful protestors.

Black Lives Matter rally in Oklahoma City, Sunday, July 10, 2016.(Photo: Sue Ogrocki, AP)

After a week of conflict in the United States that included the police-involved shooting deaths ofAlton Sterling andPhilando Castile,and the subsequent sniper attack thatleftfive Dallas police officers dead,the Black Lives Matter movement once again hasbeen at the center of controversy.

But lost in the discussion is a sense of what Black Lives Matter isand what it stands for.

What is Black Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter was founded by PatrisseCullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi as botha hashtagand a political projectaftertheacquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. Distraught at the verdict, Oakland, Calif., community activist Garza wrote an impassioned Facebook plea ending with the words "black lives matter." Cullors, a community organizer from Los Angeles, shared the Facebook post and put a hashtag in front of those three words. The ideals expressed the economic, political and socialempowerment ofAfrican-Americans resonated nationwide.

Since 2013, Black Lives Matter has movedfromsocial media platforms to the streets, morphing into an organization andamovement that gainednationalrecognitionduring demonstrations after the 2014 police-involved killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

How does Black Lives Matter work?

What setsBlack Lives Matter apart from other social justice groups, however,is its decentralized approach and reliance almost solely on local, rather than national, leadership. Cullors said organizing is often spontaneous and not directed byone person or group of people.

We dont get (people) onto the streets, they get themselves onto the street, she said.

Black Lives Matteris made up of a network of local chapters who operate mostly independently. Chelsea Fuller of the Advancement Project, a nonprofit that works with grassroots justice and race movements, said that local organizing is a powerful way to address poverty, access to housing and jobs, community policingand other issues that intersect with systemic racism.

We cant affect national narrative, we cant affect national legislation that comes down and affects local people if local people dont push back and take a stand about what's happening in local communities, Fuller said.

Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Cullors shares her thoughts about race in America.

What does Black Lives Matter stand for?

Themost important directive of Black Lives Matter,Cullors said,is to deal with anti-black racism,to push for black peoples right to live with dignity and respect and be included in theAmerican democracy that they helped create.

This is about the quality of life for black people, for poor people in this country, said Umi Selah, co-director of Dream Defenders in Miami. Though not officially affiliated, Dream Defenders and similar social justice groups often align themselves with Black Lives Matter.

The conception that all were mad about is police and policing is a strong misconception, Selah said.In fact, Black Lives Matter released a statement last weekcondemning the shooting in Dallas as counter to whatthe movement is trying to accomplish.

Ralikh Hayes of Baltimore BLOC echoed Selah, saying that Black Lives Matter is not inherently anti-police or anti-white, nor does the phrase Black Lives Matter means other lives aren't important.

We are against a system that views people as tools, Hayes said.

Cullors also hears claims that Black Lives Matterlacks direction or strategy. But Cullors said the strategyis clear -- working to ensure that black people live with the full dignity of theirhuman rights.

We are not leaderless, were leader-full, she said. "We're trying to change the world...developing a new vision for what this generation of black leaders can look like."

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