Politics

The Speech That Black Lives Matter’s Founder Wants To Hear From Obama Tonight

CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

A message reading "Black Lives Matter" is written across the cheek of Samaria Muhammad as she chants with fellow protesters in Atlanta on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014 during a demonstration against the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers in New York City and Ferguson, Mo.

Last year, Black Lives Matter activists made it a practice to interrupt politician’s speeches to chant the name of their movement and to demand that elected officials recognize the high rate that black men and women are killed at the hands of police.

Tonight, one of the movement’s founders will be in the audience at President Obama’s final State of the Union. Though she won’t be interrupting the president, Alicia Garza, who was invited as a guest of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), told ThinkProgress that she wants Obama to address various issues that affect black Americans including criminal justice reform, voting rights, and immigration.

“This is the last State of the Union under the first and potentially last black president that this country will ever have,” she said. “As the movement evolves, it becomes even more important that President Obama not only speak to the issue of criminalization, which is important and disproportionately impacts black people, but that he also speak to what he plans to do to make black lives matter in every other aspect of our society.”

The movement has focused mostly on police violence, and Garza said she wants the president to go even further than he has so far in his presidency and announce an executive action under which police departments would lose federal funding if they are shown to have a pattern and practice of violence.

She also said she hopes Obama will address other issues that affect the movement’s activists.

“What is he planning to do to make black lives matter in the economy?” she said. “What is he planning to do to make sure that black people have a voice in our political system?”

Garza noted that this year will be the first presidential election without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

“That’s particularly important for black people because we know that one in 13 black people cannot vote because of felony convictions,” she said. “And we also know there has been a huge push across the country, particularly in the South where black people are concentrated, to prevent black people from being able to make decisions over our own lives and our own futures.”

She also wants Obama to call for a moratorium on deportations. The Obama administration began large-scale deportations this year, taking into custody more than 100 Central American individuals primarily from Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina. Garza notes that the immigrant community is also black. Roughly half a million black people are being criminalized by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for not having documentation, so the issue also affects the black community. “It’s a despicable part of where our country has gone,” she said.

Garza said she also appreciates that the First Lady is leaving an empty seat in her box during the State of the Union for victims of gun violence — an issue that also disproportionately affects the black community.