Critics of Black Lives Matter haven’t been shy in airing their skepticism of the movement. Where is their agenda? Where is their inclusiveness? How is this movement sustainable? And, seemingly at every turn, Black Lives Matter activists have responded: releasing a multi-point platform of demands, building coalitions with politicians and other groups, and, most impressively, demonstrating time and time again how much they have staying power.
What began as a powerful hashtag in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing in 2012 has evolved into a full-blown civil rights movement. Thanks to Black Lives Matter, presidential candidates are now debating the realities of institutional racism. Mayor Jim Kenney has repeatedly upheld the validity of Black Lives Matter protests. Yet, there are still misconceptions about the movement, both nationally and locally, says Asa Khalif, the head of Black Lives Matter’s Pennsylvania chapter.
“We’re not anti-police, we’re anti-police brutality, and I think that’s a message that often gets lost in the coverage of arrests and the protests,” says Khalif.
Another false narrative, he says, is that individuals can’t stand with Black Lives Matter unless they themselves are black. “No, if you’re a victim of police violence, we want you to stand. There have been many rallies where Black Lives Matter activists have stood in protest for whites. Police violence doesn’t only exist within the black and brown community — it’s also poor people, it’s also LGBT people. So anywhere the cops are putting their boot in somebody’s ass, that’s where I’m going be there to make sure we put two boots in theirs.”
Khalif has been an activist since the age of 14 (he’s also a businessman, writer and movie producer), though he’s grown increasingly vocal since the death of his cousin, Brandon Tate-Brown, who was controversially killed by Philadelphia police in December 2014. Over the past couple of years, Khalif has organized a series of headline-grabbing protests — from a showdown at the Rizzo statue in August to a march at the DNC — but don’t be mistaken: The attention isn’t self-aggrandizing, nor is it for personal gain. “I’m not trying to be Al Sharpton, I’m not trying to get a show. None of that nonsense,” he says. “I just want to do what I need to do — what I’ve been called to do — and that’s to help people.”
What can we expect from his Q&A at ThinkFest with Tamala Edwards of 6ABC? An intense but educational conversation on the underpinning and the future of Black Lives Matter, he says. “Hopefully by the end, we can come to some sort of understanding.”
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