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Protester in crowd holding up a Black Lives Matter placard on cardboard.
Figure 5.1 A man holds up a sign at a Black Lives Matter protest in New York City in 2020. (credit: modification of work by “Black Lives Matter Protest Times Square New York City June 7 2020” by Anthony Quintano/Flickr, CC BY 2.0 )

On February 26, 2012, an unarmed high schooler wearing a hoodie walked home from a convenience store and was shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer. The high schooler’s name was Trayvon Martin, and the shooter was George Zimmerman. A special prosecutor, appointed by the governor of Florida, charged Zimmerman with Martin’s death. A jury acquitted him on the grounds of self-defense, and Zimmerman was freed. While there was furious debate over the legal justifications for the acquittal and whether the jury made the right decision, Martin’s death ignited a groundswell of support for his family and sparked a public reckoning with questions about institutional racism and how it should be addressed in the United States. The outcry over the trial led to the establishment of the Black Lives Matter movement, a decentralized political and social movement “whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state.”1 Now known as “a grassroots, member-led network dedicated to ending anti-black racism and preventing violence against black communities,” Black Lives Matter has 40 chapters throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom that work to raise public awareness of issues such as police accountability, working conditions, and access to health care and to advocate for civil rights.2 A majority of US adults (55 percent as of September 2020, down from 67 percent in June of that year) support Black Lives Matter, particularly after repeated publicized incidents of police brutality against minorities.3

Black Lives Matter, which is a broad movement that includes protests, advocacy, and public awareness campaigns, is an example of how people participate in politics. This chapter will examine the various manifestations of political participation as well as how we measure people’s opinions about their political beliefs.

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