The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter first appeared on this day in 2013, and was inspired by the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
As the hashtag became popular on Facebook and Twitter, Garza, Cullors and fellow activist Opal Tometi built a network of community organizers and racial justice activists using the name Black Lives Matter. The phrase and the hashtag were then quickly adopted by grassroots activists and protests all across the country, particularly after the subsequent killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and a number of other African Americans at the hands of police officers or would-be vigilantes like Zimmerman.
Simple and clear in its demand for Black dignity, the phrase became one of the major symbols of the protests that erupted after Brown's killing in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. While polling showed that a majority of Americans disapproved of the Black Lives Matter movement when it first began, in the years following, support for its central arguments grew.
After the May 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis unleashed a nationwide protest movement against police brutality and racism, support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased by a 28-point margin in two weeks—almost as much as it had in the preceding two years, according to the New York Times.
On July 10, 2015, Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia pulls over a 28-year-old Black woman, Sandra Bland, for failing to signal a lane change. After a heated encounter, he arrests her and takes her to a nearby jail. Three days later, on the morning of July 13, she is found dead in her cell, apparently by suicide. The circumstances surrounding her death lead many to question how Bland could end up losing her life following a minor traffic stop.
Bland's case drew international outrage over the treatment of Black people by white police officers and became a painful case cited in the Black Lives Matter movement.
The jail where Bland died was found to have been ignoring protocols regarding prisoner observation, and in 2017, Texas passed the Sandra Bland Act, which attempts to educate police officers about mental illness and de-escalation and mandates that jails divert people with mental health or substance abuse issues into treatment.
Bland’s name became known across the country shortly after her death and was chanted at racial justice protests for years.
Nationwide protests against police brutality, spurred on by the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, took place throughout the summer of 2020 and served as the inspiration for Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Beginning in late-May, thousands of peaceful protesters took to the streets of DC to join in the outcry. On June 1, 2020, peaceful demonstrators – many of whom were from DC – were met with violence and tear gas by federal forces between Lafayette Park and St. John’s Church, near the current site of the plaza.
Four days later, the Black Lives Matter mural was unveiled across the plaza where protesters had gathered, commissioned by Mayor Bowser and completed by the DC Public Works Department with the assistance of the MuralsDC program.
Bowser also announced the official renaming of the segment of 16th Street NW, which was made permanent by the DC City Council in October 2020. Black Lives Matter Plaza is a permanent installation in Washington, DC.