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Early 21st-century civil rights movement

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Early 21st century civil rights movement
Civil Unrest 2020 5C2A6287R.jpg
Protesters in Philadelphia on June 2, 2020
United States
Caused by
  • systemic racism
  • inequality
  • police brutality
  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • kakistocracy
  • War on drugs
  • School-to-prison pipeline
  • defunding or abolition of the police
  • ending systemic racism
  • increasing anti-racism education
  • prison reform
Methodsprotesting, social media activism, occupation, rioting, looting

The early 21st-century civil rights movement, also known as the 2020 civil rights movement and the second civil rights movement,[1] is an ongoing movement in the United States calling for the dismantling of systemic racism. The movement originated in the post-civil rights era, gaining momentum in the early 21st century following increased publicity of incidents of police brutality against Black people. Protests occurred in all fifty U.S. states, more than 700 U.S. cities, and over 17 countries worldwide.[2]

Protests that sparked in Minneapolis, Minnesota following the death of George Floyd grew across the United States and the world. As subsequent events of police brutality continued to fuel widespread protests, the focus of demonstrations became larger, with many calling for sweeping social reform.[3][4] In June 2020, the movement gained recognition as the largest civil rights movement in history.[2] Leaders of the movement have been likened to Martin Luther King, Jr.,[5] and many have noted the similarities between the current events and the Civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.[6][7][1]


History of police brutality in the United States[edit]

In 1992, following the aftermath of the beating of African-American Rodney King, riots occurred in the city of Los Angeles.[8]

Black Lives Matter movement[edit]

Black Lives Matter logo.svg

In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Black teen. The movement garnered national attention in 2014 after the Shooting of Michael Brown, which resulted in protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Eric Garner in New York City.[9] This was followed by the deaths of Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and Philando Castile resulting in additional protests against police brutality. Some began to cite the Black Lives Matter movement as the "birth of a new civil rights movement."[10] Initially, the Black Lives Matter organization was met with criticism, but public approval saw a dramatic increase in 2020.[11][12] The movement gathered further momentum after the death of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter activists have led many of the protests and events throughout the early 21st-century civil rights movement.

Protests of the U.S. national anthem[edit]

In 2016, U.S. athletes, led by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, began taking a knee during the national anthem to increase awareness of excess police brutality towards minorities, especially Black people.[13] In an explanation of his protest, Kaepernick stated:

I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there's significant change and I feel that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand.

The protests were met with widespread criticism. Commentators shifted the focus of the protest on police brutality to the patriotic aspect of kneeling rather than the meaning behind it, which detracted from Kaepernick's primary goal.[14] Some claimed that the protests were disrespectful to the nation's veterans, while some veterans voiced their support for the athletes.[13]

Coronavirus pandemic[edit]

Many felt that Trump Administration's handling of the coronavirus was representative of a kakistocracy, which contributed to distrust of the government and civil unrest.[15]

Economic collapse and high unemployment rates resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic allowed large numbers of citizens to participate in protests.[16] Protesters have been met with criticism, as many have stated that they are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus; however, protesters have argued that they would not be protesting during a pandemic if it were not crucial.[16]

Shooting of Breonna Taylor[edit]

On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor, a Black ER-technician was shot and killed in her home by police officers.[17] The officers entered on a no-knock warrant, and Taylor's boyfriend, thinking the officers were intruders, fired at the officers. The officers returned fire, killing Breonna Taylor who had been asleep in her bed.[17] The officers were placed on administrative leave, but no charges have been filed against the officers.[17] Taylor's death received renewed attention after the death of George Floyd, with many calling for charges to be brought against the three officers involved.

Run With Maud[edit]


Death of George Floyd and initial protests[edit]

George Floyd protest in Grand Army Plaza June 7 (73353).jpg

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year old Black man was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota when police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. His death was filmed and spread around the internet, leading to calls for the arrest of Chauvin and other attending officers.[18] Outrage at the video lead to hundreds of protests across the United States and the world.[18]

Some protests became violent, and there were many incidents of looting; however, the majority of protests remained peaceful, with protesters arguing that the looting was not representative of the protests as a whole.[19]

Expansion of protests[edit]

As protests against the death of Floyd continued, protesters began demanding large systemic reform and policy changes and developed into a new civil rights movement.[20][21] After charges were brought against Officer Derek Chauvin and the other officers involved in the death of George Floyd, protesters began focusing on other instances of police brutality and called for reform. Numerically, the movement is the largest civil rights movement in history.[2]

Subsequent incidents of police brutality[edit]

During the protests against police brutality, numerous additional incidents of police brutality have occurred against both protesters and people of color. On June 2, 2020, Sean Monterrosa, a Latino American man, was killed by a police officer in Vallejo, California, leading to further protests.[22] On June 4, Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old man with a cane suffered a brain injury during the Buffalo police shoving incident.[23] On June 12, police officers shot and killed Rayshard Brooks during a field sobriety test, sparking a wave of protests in Atlanta and across the country.[24]

Intersection with Pride month[edit]

The month of June marked the beginning of Pride Month, and as the protests against police brutality continued, they began to merge with the larger movement for LGBT rights. On June 12, 2020, the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the Trump Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights announced that Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act would no longer define sex discrimination to include gender identity, resulting in the ability for transgender individuals to be discriminated against in healthcare practices.[25] After the deaths of transgender women Dominique Fells and Riah Milton, protesters began holding rallies which called for justice and further investigation of the deaths of the women.[26]

An "All Black Lives Matter" march was held on Hollywood Boulevard, emphasizing that Black transgender individuals are often discriminated against even more heavily than other Black individuals.[27] Many protesters across the United States have called for unity between the LGBT community and the Black Lives Matter movement.[28]

Suspected lynchings[edit]

Since May 27, 2020, a woman, a teenage boy, and four men have been found hanging in separate incidents across the United States. All six were Black or Hispanic, leading many to suspect that they were the result of lynchings.[29] Additionally, several nooses have been found hanging from trees across the country, symbolic of the Jim Crow era lynchings.[29]

On May 31, 2020, Malcolm Harsch, a Black man, was found hanging from a tree in Victorville, California, and many worried that he had been lynched. Video evidence later revealed that Harsch had died by suicide. Harsch had been on suicide watch during two recent bookings for minor crimes in San Bernardino jails.[30]

Another Black man, Robert Fuller, was found dead near Poncitlán Square in Palmdale, California, just east of the Palmdale City Hall.[30] Fuller was also found hanging from a tree and his death was initially described by officials as a suspected suicide, but coroner's investigators not yet ruled on the cause of death pending investigation.[30][31] Suspicion increased after Fuller's half-brother, Terron Boone, was killed during a "wild shootout" with police officers.[31]

March on Washington 2020[edit]

National Action Network leader Al Sharpton announced plans for a second March on Washington on August 28, 2020, the 57th Anniversary of the first march and Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have A Dream speech.[32] The organization has requested permits from the National Park Service, but the service is currently shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.[33] An Instagram account with the name March on Washington 2020 has emerged, claiming to be an organization that is organizing the march, although they have denied affiliation with the National Action Network an Black Lives Matter organizations. This has led to confusion about who is organizing the march and concern about disorganization.[33] The permit submitted by the National Action Network anticipates at least 100,000 participants in the upcoming march.[34]

Movement toward anti-racism[edit]

Many have called for the dismantling of racist language. Some have argued replacing the use of African-American with the word "Black", stating that not all Black people in the United States have roots in Africa, and that not all Black people identify as African-American.

Although certain critics argue, it's a way to shy away from their indirect African Ancestry.


Grassroots leadership[edit]

Use of social media[edit]

The movement has seen widespread use of social media to organize and promote its ideas.[16][2] In previous civil rights movements, protests have taken months of organizing, but the development of social media has allowed protest organizers to communicate quickly and effectively with people across the world.[16] Blackout Tuesday was a call for social media users to amplify Black voices so that important information about protests could spread quickly.

Distrust of the government and mainstream media[edit]

Prison reform[edit]

Many leaders of the movement have called for prison reform and the dismantling of the school-to-prison pipeline as well as the War on Drugs.[2]

Popular reactions[edit]

Blackout Tuesday[edit]

On June 2, 2020, two music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang called on the music industry to pause normal business through their #theshowmustbepaused initiative. Many artists in the industry observed the day by not posting on social media or releasing new content and ViacomCBS networks, which includes MTV, went dark for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, and victims of racism.[35] The movement extended beyond the music industry, with brands and individuals choosing to post a black square in their social media, accompanied by the hashtag #blackouttuesday or #theshowmustbepaused and not post for the remainder of the day to allow black accounts on social media to be amplified.[36][37]


Several counter-movements have been started against the early 21st-century civil rights movement. The most notable include All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter.

Call to defund the police[edit]

Many protesters have argued for the defunding of the police, and "Defund the police" has become a rally cry at protests. The idea involves taking money away from law enforcement and putting it toward community resources that prioritize housing, employment, education, and community health.[38]

New York Times Bestseller List[edit]

After the death of George Floyd, Black American authors quickly moved to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List.[39] The occasion was the first time that the top 10 entries on the “combined print and ebook non-fiction list” of the bestseller list were primarily titles focusing on race issues in the US.[39] How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Olou were all featured on the list.[39] The top bestselling books on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites were also books focusing on race.[40]

Removal of controversial statues[edit]

Autonomous zones[edit]

As part of the protests, protesters took over portions of several cities, developing self-proclaimed autonomous zones. The most notable autonomous zone is the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, also known as the CHAZ, in Seattle, Washington. Protesters took over an empty police precinct and declared a portion of the Capitol Hill neighborhood autonomous on June 9, 2020. Within the zone protesters have developed community gardens, taken over empty buildings, and have created numerous works of graffiti art.

An autonomous zone also developed in Minneapolis. The Nashville Autonomous Zone was created on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol on June 12, 2020, modeled after the CHAZ. A short-lived autonomous zone also existed in Portland, Oregon.

Response from the entertainment industry[edit]

In response to the movement, Netflix and other streaming services made several series and films focusing on the history of racial inequality in America available for free streaming online. When They See Us, 13th, Selma, and Just Mercy.[41] The Bachelor announced that Matt James was cast at the firs Black bachelor on the series after a petition was started to ensure that the next candidate would be Black.[42]

Response from businesses[edit]

Many businesses released statements of solidarity and vowed to address racism in their organizations in response to the Black Lives Matter protests. Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben's, Eskimo Pie, Mrs. Butterworth's, and Cream of Wheat all stated that they would be renaming or rebranding their products.[43] NASCAR stated that they would no longer allow Confederate flags to be flown at their races.[44]

Political responses[edit]

State and local government response[edit]

The protests prompted policy changes in numerous cities across the United States, including banning the use of the chokehold by police officers and reducing funding for police departments.[3] On June 3, 2020 Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles vowed to defund the Los Angeles Police Department, which was originally expected to receive a $150 million budget increase. On June 8, the city of San Diego voted to create an Office of Race and Equity. The city of Seattle announced its intent to defund the Seattle Police Department and on June 15, 2020, the city council unanimously voted to ban the use of tear gas and pepper spray by police officers.[3]

Defunding of the Minneapolis Police Department[edit]

On June 5, 2020, the City of Minneapolis banned the use of chokeholds and launched a civil rights investigation on the Minneapolis Police Department in response to the killing of George Floyd.[3] On June 8, nine councilmembers announced that they intended to defund the Minneapolis Police Department by shifting funding toward community-based strategies. The city was among the first to respond to calls by protesters to defund police departments across the nation.[45]

The United States Marine Corps announced a directive banning the Confederate flag with limited exceptions.[46]

Breonna's Law[edit]

On June 11, 2020, the Louisville Metro Council voted unanimously to ban no-knock warrants after the passage of Breonna's Law almost three months after Breonna Taylor's death. Breonna's Law requires the use of body cameras by police officers and outlined the rendering of police warrants.[3] At the time, no-knock warrants were legal in every state except for Oregon.[17] After Louisville passed the law, other cities, including Cincinnati, Ohio, began discussing the passage of similar laws.[17]

Black Lives Matter Plaza[edit]

2020.06.05 Protesting the Murder of George Floyd, Washington, DC USA 157 34232.jpg

On June 5, 2020, Mayor Muriel Bowser renamed a two-block portion of 16th Street NW in Downtown Washington, D.C. "Black Lives Matter Plaza" after the Department of Public Works painted the words "Black Lives Matter" in 35-foot (11 m) yellow capital letters, along with the flag of Washington, D.C., as part of the George Floyd protests.[47][48][48][49] In response, dozens of similar murals were painted on streets across the United States.

Legislative branch response[edit]


Protesters began calling for Congress to make Juneteenth, the day that Black slaves in Texas learned that they were free, a national holiday.[50] On June 19, 2020, Democratic Senators Ed Markey, Cory Booker, Tina Smith, and Kamala Harris proposed a bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, is a cosponsor on the bill.[51]

Executive branch response[edit]

The Trump Administration has been largely unsupportive of protesters.

Judicial branch response[edit]

On June 10, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit released an amended opinion in the case of Jones v. City of Martinsburg criticizing police brutality and qualified immunity.

Wayne Jones was killed just over one year before the Ferguson, Missouri shooting of Michael Brown would once again draw national scrutiny to police shootings of black people in the United States. Seven years later, we are asked to decide whether it was clearly established that five officers could not shoot a man 22 times as he lay motionless on the ground. Although we recognize that our police officers are often asked to make splitsecond decisions, we expect them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives. Before the ink dried on this opinion, the FBI opened an investigation into yet another death of a black man at the hands of police, this time George Floyd in Minneapolis. This has to stop. To award qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage in this case would signal absolute immunity for fear-based use of deadly force, which we cannot accept. The district court’s grant of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds is reversed, and the dismissal of that claim is hereby vacated.

On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court announced a decision in Bostock v. Clayton County favoring LGBT rights and stating that workplace discrimination based on an individual's gender identity or sexual orientation is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[52]

On June 18, the Supreme Court ruled that President Trump could not end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; however, the Court left room for future action to be taken against the program.[53]

Judge Calvin Johnson, the first African-American elected to the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, called for the judicial system to become anti-racist.

International responses[edit]

Map of George Floyd protests worldwide.png

Notable activists involved in the movement[edit]

Individual activists[edit]

  • Ibram X. Kendi
  • Rachel Cargle
  • Angela Davis
  • Bryan Stevenson
  • Ijeoma Oluo
  • Tamika Mallory
  • Shaun King

Activist organizations[edit]

  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  • The Bail Project
  • Black Lives Matter (BLM)
  • New Black Panther Party
  • Black Visions Collective
  • Campaign Zero
  • Color of Change
  • Equal Justice Initiative
  • Minnesota Freedom Fund
  • Movement for Black Lives
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • National Action Network
  • Reclaim the Block

See also[edit]

  • Civil rights movement (1865–1896)
  • Civil rights movement (1896–1954)
  • Civil rights movement
  • Post-civil rights era in African-American history
  • Reactions to the killing of George Floyd
  • Reparations for slavery debate in the United States
  • Police brutality in the United States


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