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Making Black Lives Matter

A group of Bay Area families has been fighting back by building a network of those directly affected by police violence.

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"There were precedents of fighting back," Irizarry said, reflecting on the movement's pre-Ferguson trajectory. "Amadou Diallo. Sean Bell. Oscar Grant." Irizarry said one thing that's encouraging about the Black Lives Matter movement is the leadership role of women and young people in it.

"We still don't have enough demonstrations," said Cadine Williams. "We should be marching every day, shutting stuff down."

Blueford agrees and hopes to see the movement make deeper connections. "It's important for people in places like Ferguson to see us support them and stand in solidarity with what they're doing there," she said of recent solidarity demonstrations in the Bay Area. "We have to connect up what we're doing."

Smith-Downs said the recent indictment of six officers in Baltimore for killing Freddie Gray is progress thanks only to the power of the movement to disrupt business as usual. "But they're only arresting a few rookie cops," she said. "We need to move for more than just an arrest. We have to change the whole system, educate people so they know that there's injustice in the courts, how they pick the juries, who investigates."

Whatever happens next, where the new spark comes from, is anyone's guess. But Irizarry has another bit of folk wisdom to put the process of tragedy, conflict, and social change in perspective. "There's this word. Sankofa. You've probably heard it before," she said. "It's from an African language. It's pictured as a bird looking back over his shoulder at the past to learn from it." Irizarry thinks the movement against police violence has had many small victories, but that people have also stumbled and made plenty of mistakes. And, of course, the tragedy of lives lost is bad enough. But for Irizarry, the bird looking back symbolizes the will to learn from the past and have hope for the future. "There is victory in defeat," she said. "You can look back and see what went wrong."