Professor Francis' Perspective on the George Floyd Protests

Prof. Megan Ming Francis

Megan Ming Francis

The Mattering of Black Lives

I am always struck by how much we do not know about the long history of racial violence in this country. Politicians, journalists, and concerned citizens increasingly think and speak about the #BlackLivesMatter movement as if this project is a new one. But it is not. Black people in the United States have been fighting for their lives for a very long time.

In my book Civil Rights and the Making of the Modern American State, I chronicle how the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) mounted the largest campaign in history against lynching and racist mob violence in the early 20th century. Focused on the protection of Black lives from state-sanctioned violence, the NAACP organized mass demonstrations, advocated for an anti-lynching bill in Congress, and won a landmark criminal procedure decision in front of the Supreme Court.

Over a hundred years later, racial violence has reemerged on the national political scene as the defining civil rights issue in contemporary United States politics. Responding to the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and chanting “black lives matter,” activists have taken to the streets in cities like Minneapolis and Louisville to bring attention to the disposability of Black lives at the hands of law enforcement.

So where do we go from here? One of the points that has been so clear from the history of the Black freedom struggle is that Black people have been articulating a different vision of democracy and institutional accountability for a very long time and we must pay much more attention. This is a terrible moment but I've never witnessed so many people who urgently want something radically different; people want new ideas and strategies around harm reduction and accountability. For a long time, people have been holding on to the present system, thinking we can reform policing around the edges. But now, lots of people have shifted their stance on policing and no longer believe meaningful reform is possible and are asking what else is possible. And I've seen this opening—at least of people's imagination—to think about other kinds of institutional arrangements that actually value the community and the people that are in these communities in a real way. This is an important start. I believe listening to Black people who have been articulating a different vision is part of what the mattering of Black lives is all about.  

For more on Professor Francis speaking about racial violence, please watch her TED talk:

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