- Co-founder of Black Lives Matter
- Views America as a racist, sexist nation
A self-described “artist, organizer and freedom fighter” who seeks to reform America’s allegedly racist jail-and-prison system, Patrisse Cullors was born in Los Angeles in 1984. When she was a child, her father was incarcerated numerous times for drug offenses. Miss Cullors says that at age 16 she “came out as queer,” “was kicked out of home,” and subsequently formed close connections with “a bunch of other young queer women of color” who, like her, were dealing with the challenges of “poverty [and] being black and brown in the USA.”
Identifying strongly with the famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Cullors traces her impulse toward activism back to 1999, when her older brother Monte was allegedly beaten by a group of L.A. deputies while he was in their custody. At age 18, Miss Cullors began volunteering with the Bus Riders Union, a public transportation advocacy group organized by a Los Angeles-based think tank known as the Labor and Community Strategies Center. A few years later, the Center hired Cullors to train high-school students in political organizing tactics. Cullors herself was trained to be an activist by former Weather Underground leader Eric Mann.
In 2012 Cullors earned a degree in religion and philosophy from UCLA. She thereafter completed a fellowship at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, where she: (a) organized and headed a think tank on “state and vigilante violence,” and (b) produced and directed a theatrical piece titled “POWER: From the Mouths of the Occupied,” which accused the U.S. of perpetrating “state violence” and “genocide” against African Americans.
Also in 2012, Cullors became interested in a civil-rights lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging that gangs of deputies in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department had been systematically beating and abusing inmates. Before long, Cullors and five likeminded friends began organizing protests against these alleged transgressions. As membership in her group grew to more than four-dozen people, Cullors named it Dignity and Power Now (DPN). Dedicated to “protecting incarcerated people and their families in Los Angeles,” DPN today is sponsored by the nonprofit group Community Partners. DPN is also a front group for the Marxist-Leninist Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
In 2013 Cullors collaborated with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi to co-found Black Lives Matter (BLM), an online platform designed to stoke black rage and galvanize a protest movement in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the “white Hispanic” who was tried for murder and manslaughter after he had shot and killed a black Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin in a highly publicized February 2012 altercation.
In one of her more high-profile undertakings, Cullors in the fall of 2014 led a group of some 600 fellow BLM protesters in a “Freedom Ride” from St. Louis to Ferguson, Missouri. Their purpose was to protest a white Ferguson police officer’s recent killing of an 18-year-old black male named Michael Brown.
In her quest to fight “the current system” of “white supremacy” and “anti-blackness” that inflicts “state violence” on African Americans, Cullors views BLM as a vehicle for promoting “major policy” geared toward “decriminalizing Black lives,” “reducing the law-enforcement budget,” and forcing some police departments to be “disbanded or abolished.” “With a reduction of law-enforcement money,” Cullors elaborates, “we can then be putting it back into Black communities”—i.e., into government programs that provide “black folks” with “jobs,” “housing,” and “healthy food.” Moreover, she vows that until “a victim’s bill of rights” is passed to protect blacks from abuse by police officers, she and her fellow activists are “gonna shut shit down.”
In May 2015, Cullors characterized the recent protests and riots in Baltimore—which erupted after a local black criminal named Freddie Gray had died under disputed circumstances while in police custody—as “Black Spring” demonstrations akin to the massive “Arab Spring” actions that had threatened and/or toppled a number of Middle Eastern regimes beginning in 2011. “Black Spring,” she said, “is about really looking at this moment, as not these isolated incidences.… Black people are not a monolithic group, but what we are facing is something that’s extreme—and that’s poverty, that’s homelessness, that’s higher rates of joblessness, that’s law enforcement invading our communities day in and day out—and we are uprising. And so this Black Spring is about really talking about a national uprising.”
In July 2015, Cullors spoke at the annual Netroots Nation convention in Phoenix. In the course of her remarks, she exhorted fellow blacks to “rise the fuck up” and “burn everything down!” She also said that the allegedly high incidence of black-on-black crime “is a myth.”
In March 2016, Fortune magazine named Cullors and her two BLM co-founders to its list of the “50 of the most influential world leaders.”
In addition to her work with BLM, Cullors is also active in a network called Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD), which teaches black activists how to help build a “social justice infrastructure.”
Cullors’ Anti-Israel Orientation
In January 2015, Cullors joined representatives from the Dream Defenders as well as a number of likeminded anti-police-brutality protesters in taking a 10-day trip to the Palestinian Territories in the West Bank. Their objective was to publicly draw a parallel between what they defined as Israeli oppression of the Palestinians in the Middle East, and police violence against blacks in the United States. A complete list of the other delegates who made this trip included five Dream Defenders (Phillip Agnew, Ciara Taylor, Steven Pargett, Sherika Shaw, Ahmad Abuznaid); Tef Poe and Tara Thompson from Ferguson/Hands Up United; journalist and professor Marc Lamont Hill; Cherrell Brown and Carmen Perez of the Justice League NYC; Charlene Carruthers from the Black Youth Project; poet and artist Aja Monet; and USC doctoral student Maytha Alhassen.
In August 2015, Cullors was one of more than 1,000 black activists, artists, scholars, politicians, students, “political prisoners,” and organizational representatives to sign a statement proclaiming their “solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and commitment to the liberation of Palestine’s land and people”; demanding an end to Israel’s “occupation” of “Palestine”; condemning “Israel’s brutal war on Gaza and chokehold on the West Bank”; urging the U.S. government to end all aid to Israel; and exhorting black institutions to support the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions movement against the Jewish state. Key passages from the letter included the following:
- “Palestinians on Twitter were among the first to provide international support for protesters in Ferguson, where St. Louis-based Palestinians gave support on the ground. Last November, a delegation of Palestinian students visited Black organizers in St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit and more, just months before the Dream Defenders took representatives of Black Lives Matter, Ferguson, and other racial justice groups to Palestine. Throughout the year, Palestinians sent multiple letters of solidarity to us throughout protests in Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore. We offer this statement to continue the conversation between our movements.”
- “We remain outraged at the brutality Israel unleashed on Gaza through its siege by land, sea and air, and three military offensives in six years. We remain sickened by Israel’s targeting of homes, schools, UN shelters, mosques, ambulances, and hospitals. We remain heartbroken and repulsed by the number of children Israel killed in an operation it called ‘defensive.’ We reject Israel’s framing of itself as a victim. Anyone who takes an honest look at the destruction to life and property in Gaza can see Israel committed a one-sided slaughter.”
- “Israel’s injustice and cruelty toward Palestinians is not limited to Gaza and its problem is not with any particular Palestinian party. The oppression of Palestinians extends throughout the occupied territories, within Israel’s 1948 borders, and into neighboring countries. The Israeli Occupation Forces continue to kill protesters—including children—conduct night raids on civilians, hold hundreds of people under indefinite detention, and demolish homes while expanding illegal Jewish-only settlements.”
- “Our support extends to those living under occupation and siege, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the 7 million Palestinian refugees exiled in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. The refugees’ right to return to their homeland in present-day Israel is the most important aspect of justice for Palestinians.”
- “Palestinian liberation represents an inherent threat to Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid, an apparatus built and sustained on ethnic cleansing, land theft, and the denial of Palestinian humanity and sovereignty. While we acknowledge that the apartheid configuration in Israel/Palestine is unique from the United States (and South Africa), we continue to see connections between the situation of Palestinians and Black people.”
- “Israel’s widespread use of detention and imprisonment against Palestinians evokes the mass incarceration of Black people in the US, including thepolitical imprisonment of our own revolutionaries.”
- “U.S. and Israeli officials and media criminalize our existence, portray violence against us as ‘isolated incidents,’ and call our resistance ‘illegitimate’ or ‘terrorism.’ These narratives ignore decades and centuries of anti-Palestinian and anti-Black violence that have always been at the core of Israel and the US. We recognize the racism that characterizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is also directed against others in the region, including intolerance, police brutality, and violence against Israel’s African population.”
- “We know Israel’s violence toward Palestinians would be impossible without the U.S. defending Israel on the world stage and funding its violence with over $3 billion annually. We call on the U.S. government to end economic and diplomatic aid to Israel. We wholeheartedly endorse Palestinian civil society’s 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and call on Black and U.S. institutions and organizations to do the same. We urge people of conscience to recognize the struggle for Palestinian liberation as a key matter of our time.”
- “[W]e aim to sharpen our practice of joint struggle against capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, and the various racisms embedded in and around our societies.”