‘Black Lives Matter’ Goes International

Black Lives Matter and other U.S. groups fighting racist police and vigilante violence are taking their message around the globe. Their latest stop: the United Kingdom

By Julianne Hing Jan 30, 2015

A movement that heated up in Ferguson, Mo., is traveling around the world. Its latest stop: the United Kingdom. 

Patrisse Cullors, a Los Angeles-based organizer and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, is in the U.K. this week sharing the movement’s message in what’s been dubbed the Ferguson Solidarity Tour. Her visit comes on the heels of a 10-day trip to Palestine that activists from Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, BYP 100 and the Dream Defenders took in early January. 

"It’s really important to build international solidarity, specifically around the global consequences of anti-black racism," Cullors told Colorlines over the phone from Manchester. "Being inside the U.K. has been very revealing about the role law enforcement plays in terrorizing black communities in particular."

The U.K. has been a hotbed of protest against racially charged police violence. In 2011, the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old black man, set off days of demonstrations, looting and arson across the country. 

Cullors met with London families who’ve lost loved ones to police violence earlier this week, including the mother and brother of Julian Cole, a 21-year-old British black man whose neck was broken while police attempted to detain him in May 2013. He was left in a vegetative state.

Cullors also spent time with the sisters of Sean Rigg, a 40-year-old black man who had schizophrenia and died in police custody in 2008, and Christopher Alder, another black man who died while being detained by police, in 1998. "It was devastating," Cullors said. "It reminded me a lot of the stories here in the U.S."

In November, Michael Brown’s family was the first to take the Ferguson-centered demand for police accountability outside the U.S. "We need the world to know what’s going on and we need justice," Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, told CNN in November, when Brown’s family and Ferguson activist Tef Poe traveled to Geneva to testify before a United Nations Committee Against Torture.

And Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza has noted that chapters of the group have sprung up in Canada and Ghana.

"At the best and brightest moments of the freedom struggle, our people have looked internationally to forge solidarity and seek justice," Marc Lamont Hill, a Morehouse College professor of African American Studies, told Colorlines via text message. Hill was with the delegation that went to Palestine in January. While there, U.S. activists met with black Palestinians, refugees, and those who’d been displaced from their homes. "We found common ground with organizers, activists, and everyday citizens who are dealing with white supremacy, state violence and other forms of social injustice," said Hill. "By the end of the trip blacks from the States were chanting ‘Filistine hurra, hurra!’ and Palestinians were chanting ‘Black lives matter!’"

Cullors, who will visit Glasgow, Brighton and NorthernIreland in the coming days, said she was struck by how aware people outside of the United States are about police brutality and vigilante violence here. "The way the U.S. operates is…how do I put it? Very insular." she said. "I’ve been having all these conversations with people here, and they know about Trayvon Martin, about Rekia Boyd. But I’m here and I don’t know about any of these stories."

Cullors continued, "There’s an opportunity because the U.S. is such a visible force. People here are inspired by the history of struggle from black people and Black Lives Matter. There’s an opportunity to connect these struggles."