Black Lives Matter and Respectability Politics in Local News Accounts of Officer-involved Civilian Deaths: An Early Empirical Assessment

Obasogie, Osagie K; Newman, Zachary
Wisconsin Law Review

The Black Lives Matter movement launched in July 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted by a Florida jury in the shooting death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black male. The incident giving rise to this emerging social movement-where the "hoodie" became a key part of widespread public debates on whether certain attributes or cues reasonably signal danger-reflects the most recent iteration of a longstanding respectability politics that has fundamentally shaped the perception and treatment of Black people for many years. This political debate has centered around the idea that Blacks can minimize or evade the injustices associated with discriminatory attitudes by behaving in a so-called respectable manner, i.e., dressing, acting, speaking, and even protesting in certain acceptable ways. As a social movement, Black Lives Matter can be understood as growing out of a specific opposition to respectability politics by insisting that regardless of any ostensibly non-respectable behaviorfrom Martin's hoodie to Eric Garner selling loose cigarettes-their lives matter and should not be treated with deadly force.