Mar 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

How Black Lives Matter helped Native Americans and Latinos

 Native American activists speak during a Black Lives Matter protest in memory of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Native American activists speak during a protest in memory of George Floyd as jury selection begins in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. PHOTO: Christopher Mark Juhn/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Protests over the killing of George Floyd generated a racial reckoning across the U.S. that also helped Native Americans and Latinos bring attention to their fight against systemic racism.

Why it matters: Native Americans say the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement in response to Floyd's death helped push sports teams to change their names and logos. Latino activists say it also drew attention to their own long-ignored experiences with police abuse.

Details: The Washington Football Team announced in July it was dropping its name the team had used since the 1930s, following massive racial justice protests touched off by Floyd's death.

  • The move came after Black Lives Matter activists began demanding a name change and pushed FedEx to pull sponsorship deals.
  • Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee activist Suzan Shown Harjo and other Indigenous advocates had been trying for years to get the Washington Football Team, as well as college and high school teams, to drop mascots that used Native Americans.
  • Until that moment, the team’s owner, Dan Snyder, had said repeatedly he would never change the name some Native Americans found offensive.
  • The Cleveland Indians then announced in December that the team would also change its name, after decades of pressure.

What they're saying: "It's devastating that it took the murder of George Floyd for this to happen. It was a perfect storm. We will forever owe that debt to Mr. Floyd and his family," Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and executive director of networking and advocacy group IllumiNative, told Axios.

During the summer of protests, Navajo members were seen holding Black Lives Matter signs along Route 66 in Albuquerque, N.M.

  • Northern Cheyenne and Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux activist James Nason Roundstone worked to keep Black Lives Matter protests peaceful in Washington state.

The intrigue: Antonio Valenzuela, 40, died from a choking maneuver during a struggle with a Las Cruces, N.M. police officer three months before Floyd was killed.

  • The death of the Mexican American man was caught on video, but drew little scrutiny outside of the southern New Mexico city — until Black Lives Matter protests engulfed the nation. The former officer in the case is now facing a second-degree murder charge.
  • A Washington Post analysis found that Latinos are killed by police at the second-highest rate, behind African Americans.
  • Fernando García, executive director of the El Paso, Texas-based Border Network for Human Rights, said anger over Floyd's death brought Black and Latino activists together to fight excessive force in cities across the country.
  • Latino advocates join protests to point to patterns of police violence against Latinos from Phoenix to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Yes, but: Some Black leaders felt Latino activists were co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • A Black Lives Matter protest in June outside of Mariachi Plaza in Los Angeles drew criticism because many of the speakers were Mexican Americans.

But, but, but: The speakers at the protests were family members of those shot by Los Angeles police.

  • Later that same month, Mexican American lowriders and classic car enthusiasts rode through Los Angeles for a socially distanced Black Lives Matter demonstration.
  • "The main impact we're trying to send is the message 'unity'," organizer Johnny Torres told KABC-TV.
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