By Dr. Shaneda Destine

Tyree Nichols was stopped, beaten, and killed by Memphis police officers on January 7th– 2023, 6 hours from my home. However, Tyree Nichols is more than just a headline and a police victim, he was a father, a son, an aspiring photographer with a big smile. He was 100 yards from his mother’s house when he lost his life. Though Tyree’s death is as horrific as any other death by police officers, Memphis police department swiftly indicted the Black officers involved. This indictment is a reminder of the glaring difference in justice Black men killed by white police officers receive, and the invisibility of Black women and queer victims, who barely get any popular media coverage of the police violence they face. Tyree’s brutal attack by police was publicized by all national news outlets, but there is less popular media coverage of Black women and queer people’s experiences with police violence. My research looks at the experiences of Black women and queer people in the Movement for Black Lives to uncover how their work and struggles fighting against police violence are often overlooked and undermined.

In my recent Gender & Society article, I studied activists in the Black Lives Matter movement as they developed into many grassroots collaborations across America. I studied more than 21 organizations for this research. All are either formally or informally part of the Movement for Black Lives mobilization. My study focuses on Black women and queer people as organizers of this movement. I suspected they might offer an intersectional analysis of the movement as a way to decenter patriarchy, homophobia, and transphobia in the protest calls for abolition and in the halls of our justice system. My study showed that to understand how strong a movement is we should look at how—how leaders struggle to keep marginalized people’s needs central to the demands of the movement.

In this research, I interviewed 48 Black women and queer people in Maryland, Georgia, Tennessee and other places  from 2016 through 2019. This is a millennial movement that illustrates what Ruth Milkman calls a “a new political generation.” While some organizations affiliated with the Movement for Black lives in this study do center Black queer and disabled lives, others still have work to do in making sure these liberation strategies central are clear to all members of the organizations.

My study research identifies many local Black Lives Matter social movement organizations as places where women and queer people still contend with patriarchy, homophobia, and classism. While Black women and queer leaders struggle to remain inclusivity in their local organizations, they are met with challenges within and outside local organizations.

The Movement for Black Lives reaches its 10th year in 2023— and this generations rallying call for Trayvon’s Martin’s killer to be brought to justice has only increased its commitment to abolition, Black Futures, and inclusivity of all the voices in the Black community. This commitment was shown worldwide with the 2020 uprisings—in response to George Floyd’s public suffocation under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a police officer. However, Tyree Nichols death and the increasing amount of police killings since 2020 prove that the challenges are ever present, and liberation is even more necessary. This study points to a need for local organizations, scholars, movement participants and those concerned with justice to be in conversation about how to make our movements mirror the world’s we want. My work shows that Black queer leaders and organizers contribute helping our movements mirror the justice we need. Through world building, analysis and struggle we should get to the world we want, while in movements that model that world.

Dr. Shaneda Destine’s research focus is race, gender, sexuality, and contemporary social movements. She is most interested in how state violence effects the livelihood of marginalized people. She investigates forms of resistance of Black women and Black Queer people, as they create spaces of Black Joy and Respite, while struggling for liberation. Her research highlights the unique ways Black women and femmes are affected by state violence and the ways in which they strategize and negotiate organizing, leading, and caring for themselves and movement participants, as part of their political practice.

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