Black Lives Matter has been under constant media scrutiny since its founding almost a decade ago. The BLM’s resurgence in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd led to another backlash and increased attention to the activities of the movement and its leaders. Most recently, a New York magazine article was highly critical of the purchase of a $6 million California property by the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, suggesting financial impropriety by the organization and its leaders. Last week, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors participated in a conference call with numerous Black-oriented media outlets to address the issues raised by the article and other criticisms echoed in other media. Here’s what was discussed.
Explaining how BLM operates
Cullors, who led the BLM Global Network Foundation during the purchase of the 6,500-square-foot California home, was joined on the call by Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and the head of Black Lives Matter Grassroots Network. Legendary activist Angela Davis, who was described by Cullors as a mentor for herself and Abdullah, also appeared on the call to speak about BLM and the allegations made against it.
In a conversation moderated by Chelsea Fuller, Cullors began by clarifying the existence of three different organizations bearing the Black Lives Matter name: The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, for which Cullors served as executive director from its founding in 2020 until May 2021; the Black Lives Matter PAC, which endorses political candidates and Black Lives Matter Grassroots, a collection of local BLM chapters that banned together in 2020.
Abdullah described the BLM Grassroots organization she leads as handling “the on the ground work that Black Lives Matter does globally,” including urging for legislation and “stand[ing] with families of those who are killed by police.” She expressed frustration at allegations like those made in the New York magazine article, which mentioned her and Cullors by name, as taking attention away from the political and community work that BLM performs. “What these recent attacks do is they distract you and us from that work.”
Purchasing the California campus
Cullors explained that the purchase of the California house, which she describes as a “multipurpose property” occurred in October 2021, when she was still executive director of BLM Global Network Foundation. She said that it is common for organizations to own real estate for business purposes and characterized the purchase of the California property, which she refers to as a campus, as a “huge accomplishment” for BLM. “Securing a Black space is neither a crime nor a hustle,” Cullors said in defense of the purchase, characterizing it as part of a “long legacy of Black people wanting to secure land and property.”
The goal of the purchase, she explained, was to use the facility as a content production center and to “use the campus as a haven, as a safe space” for BLM activists. The latter purpose was necessary due to multiple “credible threats” being made against various BLM leaders, including herself, Abdullah and their families.
Cullors clarified that she stayed at the California home for four days following a warning by the FBI of a threat to her life. But neither she nor anyone else had lived on the premises beyond that, to the best of her knowledge. Citing her resignation from BLM Global Network Foundation in 2021, Cullors suggested that any questions about the current use of the property be directed to the current leaders of that organization, who declined to participate in the conference call.
Historical perspective to criticisms of BLM
Angela Davis joined the conference call to defend BLM and to offer a historical perspective to the criticisms being made against the organization and its leaders. Davis described these criticisms as part of a wider campaign of “conservative efforts to turn the clock back, to discredit the movement, to pretend as if it might be possible to live life as we have previously experienced it.” Comparing Black Lives Matter to the Civil Rights Movement, Davis explained that “I knew from the outset…that there would be attacks.”
Davis pointed to government actions such as the FBI’s targeting of “Black Identity Extremists” under the Trump administration as similar to the COINTELPRO program that targeted Black leaders and organizations during and after the civil rights era. Turning to current criticisms, she criticized the media for creating a narrative that BLM leaders were seeking “self-aggrandizement” and “more wealth for themselves.” Such accusations, according to Davis, are “absolutely ridiculous” and make “no sense at all.”
Distinguishing criticisms from attacks
Cullors and Abdullah emphasized that they welcomed honest criticism of their own leadership and the movements actions, while distinguishing such feedback from unproductive attacks. “I was trained as a community organizer and a public artist,” Cullors explained, “and in my training, we were taught to see critiques as valuable, to see them as generative, to see them as necessary.” She added, however, that “what’s happening now is not critique, it’s attack.”
Questioned about the perceived lack of transparency from BLM leaders, Abdullah countered that “what bothered me most about this latest round of attacks is that I got almost no outreach from anybody asking me to speak,” while citing a few prominent Black media personalities such as Roland Martin who asked for and received comments from her on the matter. Abdullah expressed a desire for Black media to fill the gap in reporting, including substantive criticism of the movement. “We’re not asking you to be unfair and cape for us,” Abdullah said. “We’re asking you to be fair.”
Cullors admitted that BLM organizers could legitimately be criticized for moves they’ve made along the way. “This is not an easy thing that we’re doing,” she explained. “We’re trying to literally create a movement for Black people to undo white supremacy and undo patriarchy and undo all of the things that have impacted us, and we’re going to make mistakes along the way and in those mistakes we’re going to learn from them.”