The three-year-old Black Lives Matter movement has always been considered an American phenomenon. After all, no other country has the number of deaths by gun violence or the number of police shootings that we do in the United States.
But the movement has resonated in several countries across the world, both in solidarity with those who have been killed in the U.S. and as a force against anti-black racism worldwide.
The deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Minnesota sparked protests across the United States. But those protests were echoed days later in demonstrations in London, Berlin, and Amsterdam. Multiracial crowds of protesters held signs printed with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and chanted, "No justice, no peace." Black Lives Matter also has chapters in Canada, South Africa, and Ghana, although the official Black Lives Matter website lists only the Canadian chapter.
As explained in a story in the online magazine The Root by Janaya Khan, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto:
The reach of anti-black racism is not confined to the borders of North America. Black Lives Matter has become a transformative outlet for all black people from different historical, cultural, socioeconomic, and political identities. It is a source of solidarity for the survivors of colonization, exploitation, capitalism, and police brutality.
Days after the deaths of Sterling, Castile, and five police officers in Dallas, protesters in peaceful demonstrations in public squares in the three European capitals took a variety of actions to honor victims, according to a story on CNN.
In London, some 1,000 people held rallies throughout the city. In Berlin, crowds listened as the names of people killed by police in the U.S. were read aloud. In Amsterdam, people wore signs on their backs with the words, “Don’t Shoot. I’m Trayvon Martin” or held signs saying, “Don’t Shoot. I Matter.”
A BBC story quoted Maryam Ali, an 18-year-old student from west London who helped found that city’s chapter. "Part of it is solidarity with the U.S.," she said. "I have family in America, and I fear for their lives. They could just be walking down the street and their lives could be be taken away.” British police have killed only two people in the United Kingdom this year, compared with the 512 killed by police in the U.S. so far this year.
"By these people coming here to stand and unite, they are showing that they are against police brutality, and that’s the most important thing," Ali told the Voice newspaper in London, according to a story in the Washington Post. She added: "I think people forget that racism is a worldwide thing. It’s still very prevalent. This is ultimately a cry for help." She said it’s “more than a moment—it’s a worldwide movement.”
As Ali told the BBC:
"There is internalized racism everywhere. There is a system that targets young black people because of a stereotype that they are dangerous, without actually looking at who they are. It's a terrifying cycle."
Breaking that cycle is about raising awareness everywhere, she says, whether there are police killings or not. "We are trying to build an awareness of black lives worldwide, not just for those in close proximity with racist law enforcement."
The story in The Root also described actions by protesters in Israel after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Around the time that military forces were being withdrawn in Baltimore and the curfew lifted, Ethiopians in Israel began protesting after an Ethiopian member of the Israeli army was attacked by Israeli police while in full uniform. The systemic anti-black racist discrimination against Ethiopians living in Israel became connected to the larger Black Lives Matter movement, with Ethiopian Jews demanding that their black lives mattered, too. Much as in Ferguson and Baltimore, they demanded an end to discrimination and police brutality in Israel.
In Canada, Black Lives Matter Toronto has two areas of focus: expressing solidarity with the actions in the U.S. and applying the cause to Canadian issues, according to the BBC story.
To that end, the Toronto chapter is branching out into policy and education. This year it is running a pilot summer school in an attempt to reduce the numbers of young black people getting caught up in crime and to "teach a history that is more balanced."
Toronto chapter co-founder Janaya Khan is an educator and activist. She told the BBC, "Black Lives Matter is not just about black lives, it is about the quality of black lives." Although Canada has few police killings, Khan said racial bias affects the country's criminal justice system.
I can offer some personal anecdotal evidence that the movement is spreading worldwide. About a year ago, I wrote a Daily Kos post about Campaign Zero’s 10-point plan to curb police killing, a proposal tied to the Black Lives Matter movement. The post got 472 recommendations, my highest total ever. It was shared on Facebook nearly 3,000 times.
I also posted the same column on my own website. That particular post, although nearly a year old, always gets some hits whenever Black Lives Matter is in the news.
In the past week, though, traffic for that post has spiked. It’s been my most-read post every day, with readership coming from at least eight countries daily, from Europe to Asia to Africa. Even if that’s nothing more than curiosity, it shows that people around the world are taking the movement seriously.
As Khan said in her story in The Root:
Anti-black racism continues to thrive on a global scale, from the mass deportation of Haitians out of the Dominican Republic—rendering them not just homeless but stateless—to the international abandonment of African migrants who risk drowning on overcrowded fishing boats while fleeing war-ravaged countries. All are the concern of #BlackLivesMatter.