They started a hashtag and a civil rights movement

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Patrisse Cullors: My name is Patrisse Cullors and I'm from Los Angeles, California, and I'm one of the cofounders of Black Lives Matter.

 

Opal Tometi: Hey, my name is Opal Tometi and I live in Brooklyn, New York, and I'm one of the cofounders of Black Lives Matter.

 

Jane Little: So, there's a lot online today about Sandra Bland her tragic death in police custody. I'm wondering if I could just get your response to that story.

 

Cullors: Sandra Bland is probably one of the most traffic stories I have heard so far, because she was stopped at a routine traffic stop; next thing we know she's incarcerated, next thing we know she's supposedly hung herself. So the tragedy of her story is just so painful and it's also this important marker for the reasons why we've built Black Lives Matter.

 

Little: You say supposedly. We don't actually have the details of the autopsy. We do have her family saying she wouldn't have done that, we do have a bondsman saying she reached out to me for bail. I'm wondering where you're at with it, Opal.

 

Tometi: Yeah, I mean, quite honestly I'm with her family and those who question what took place. I don't believe that she would have done that to herself. She was a woman who spoke out against the injustices that we're seeing in our society. She was a woman who was about to start a new job, so this doesn't add up. I think it really reeks of injustice.

 

Little: Now, Black Lives Matter came out after the Trayvon Martin case and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, and you've also been very prominent in following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and other men. Women don't often feature as victims of alleged police brutality. Is it because it's actually very rare, or because nobody's championing them?

 

Cullors: It's not that it's rare, and I actually think it's important that we talk about, in this segment, that we've always uplifted black women in our stories, from Renisha McBride to Rekia Boyd to the seven year old, Aiyana Stanley Jones, who was killed by Detroit police in a botched raid. The Black Lives Matter movement has always uplifted these stories, and I think it's just starting now that the media is catching up with that.

 

Little: Do you think that the media's got a lot of catching up to do when it comes to women as victims of alleged police brutality?

 

Cullors: Yes, and you see it when the media says "the Black Lives Matter movement, who's focusing on the killings of black men by law enforcement" versus saying, you know, broadening the narrative first of all, but second of all, we've never said that we're just focusing on the killings of black men by law enforcement. We've always said our entire community is under attack by law enforcement. We have to fight for all of us.

 

Little: You've been asked in the past, why the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter? Why not #AllLivesMatter, #OurLivesMatter?

 

Cullors: Because right now, the tragedy and crisis within this country, and I argue the globe, is with black lives. If we don't actually deal with the root of white supremacy and racism, which black people become sort of the face of all of the atrocities here in this country and the globe, then we're not going to actually deal with, I say, the issues of humanity.

 

Little: Opal.

 

Tometi: I absolutely concur. I think the implications are for everybody's life. We know that all lives matter, and we have to go beyond this notion of a post-racial society that does not want to look at race and how racism plays out in our society. It's high time that we take a hard look and address it. We're going to need everybody to get behind this movement to ensure that black lives matter, in order to ensure that all lives matter.

 

Little: You really went viral, didn't you, on social media? I'm wondering how much you think we're at this sort of cultural watershed moment, aided by social media, that perhaps now we've reached a point where race in America, you can't ignore the issue.

 

Cullors: I think you can ignore the issue, but I think it's about choosing not to ignore the issue. I know that we've hit a moment that is sort of at the pinnacle, because you're seeing the attack on black life even greater, right. I think the issue in Charleston of the murders of those nine black folk has everything to do with this current movement. It was a reactionary response to what a lot of white supremacist groups are seeing as, you know, a race war. I think it's pathetic that that is sort of the lens in which people are seeing Black Lives Matter, when in reality we're actually asking to be able to live our lives with dignity, to live our lives without fear.

 

Little: What would be your top issue if we look at women and women's lives here in terms of access to justice?

 

Tometi: One of the top issues, and this might be me, because of my lens doing immigrant rights work historically, but I work with a lot of mothers who don't have their immigration documents, and so that type of life where your, maybe you're taking care of children, maybe you're looking for work, a lot of these women are living their lives in the shadows. I think for our movement, in some ways, it’s really to shine a light on the challenges that poor working-class black women are experiencing. Oftentimes, those who are immigrant women too.

 

Little: You're three powerful black women, two of whom are here, our co-founder is not, but who founded, really, it's a meme. It's more than a hashtag, Black Lives Matter. When we think of the civil rights leaders of yesterdays, many of us think of Dr. Martin Luther King, a whole load of men, a few women, but a lot of men, and I’m wondering if you think it's the women leading this generation in terms of civil rights leadership?

 

Cullors: I think it was the women leading that generation too, from Ella Baker to Fannie Lou Famer. We had amazing, brilliant women that were literally the architects of the movement. Because of patriarchy, because of sexism, we're erased, we're marginalized. Rosa Parks was not just a woman that sat at the front of the bus, she was a strategist, she was a tactitioner. I think what we're trying to push, because we have social media and they didn't, a new narrative. We get to do that in this generation.

 

Little: Opal.

 

Tometi: As Patrisse said, we've always been leading in these movements and we've always been strategists in this movement. It's high time that we hear more complicated narratives about who it is that our leaders are and who it is that we are. It's important that we have queer, trans, immigrant, differently-abled leaders who are brought to the forefront and that we strategize from learning more about what's going on there. Marginalized must be brought into the center and we must organize from that place.

 

Little: And let women lead.

 

Tometi: Let women lead.

 

Little: Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, thank you very much.

 

Cullors: Thank you so much.

 

Tometi: Thank you.