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Explained: Who is Patrisse Cullors, the Black Lives Matter co-founder who has resigned?

Howard University notes that the movement was started by three female Black organisers including Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

On Thursday, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF) announced that its co-founder and current Executive Director Patrisse Cullors would be resigning from her role. Two senior executives Makani Themba and Monifa Bandele will now be supporting the organisation.

Patrisse Cullors and the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement

Cullors co-founded the BLM movement in 2013 after which the movement was expanded into a global foundation to support similar movements in the US, UK and Canada. “Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation is a global foundation supporting Black led movements in the U.S., UK and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes,” the BLMGNF website notes.

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Howard University notes that the movement was started by three female Black organisers including Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. Initially, the movement started with a hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, which was triggered by the acquittal of George Zimmerman who shot Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American high-school student in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012. Zimmerman claimed that he had shot Martin in self-defence.

The BLM movement was revived last year following the death of African-American George Floyd, who died after a white police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25 last year. The allegation against Floyd was related to his passing a counterfeit bill. A 911 call was made on May 25 by someone who reported that a man bought merchandise from Cup Foods in Minneapolis and presented a $20 counterfeit bill.

The autopsy carried out by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner revealed that the effect of Chauvin’s restraint on Floyd along with his underlying health conditions (arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease) along with the presence of drugs (his toxicology report revealed the presence of fentanyl and evidence of recent methamphetamine use) “contributed to his death”. The medical examiner listed the cause of death as “‘[c]ardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,’ and concluded that the manner of death was homicide.”

Floyd’s death sparked large-scale protests focussing on racism across the US and some other parts of the world. Marking one year since Floyd’s death last week, BLMGNF said in a statement, “Today and every day, we honor George’s life by coming together and recommitting to the fight for Black liberation”.

So why has Cullors resigned?

“With smart, experienced and committed people supporting the organization during this transition, I know that BLMGNF is in good hands,” Cullors said in a statement. “The foundation’s agenda remains the same — eradicate white supremacy and build life-affirming institutions,” she added.

The BBC reported that Cullors has been planning to step down from her position since 2020 and has taken the decision finally to work on her second book titled, “An Abolitionist’s Handbook” and to work on a project with Warner Bros. Her first book titled, “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir” was published in 2018 and is a The New York Times best-seller.

The BBC report also notes that Cullors’s finances had come under scrutiny last month after it was reported that she owned four houses. Cullors, however, has denied that her resignation is related to claims that she has misused donations for her own benefit. An exclusive report in the Associated Press published in February noted that the organisation claims to have taken in over $90 million in donations in 2020.

The report also notes that critics of BLMGNF say that in recent years the organisation has “increasingly moved away from being a Black radical organising hub and become a mainstream philanthropic and political organization run without democratic input from its earliest grassroots supporters.”

“One of our biggest goals this year is taking the dollars we were able to raise in 2020 and building out the institution we’ve been trying to build for the last seven and a half years,” Cullors told the AP in an interview.

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