Police brutality is the term for abuse of authority committed by police when they employ excessive force; it is particularly used in the context of unwarranted violence towards minorities. It is is usually applied to physical harm, but it can also include psychological harm through insults and intimidation. The modern definition of police brutality has its roots in the Civil Rights movement era, when police brutally put down peaceful protests in places like Selma, Alabama. In recent years, individuals who commit acts of police brutality may do so with the tacit approval of their larger departments or may be “bad apples,” or rogue officers. They may also try to cover up the illegality of their actions.
The international activist moment Black Lives Matter (BLM) was created in response to such police brutality. The movement began in 2013 after the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter spread on Twitter following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a white man, after he shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen. BLM gained national recognition for street protests following the police-perpetrated deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City. Since Ferguson, the movement has protested the deaths of black men and women in police shootings and in police custody.
BLM is part of a larger, polarized national debate on police brutality and racial profiling. The slogan “All Lives Matter” gained popularity as a counter to BLM; it has been criticized for misunderstanding what Black Lives Matter means at the expense of minorities. After two police officers were shot in Ferguson, the hashtag Blue Lives Matter was popularized by supporters of the police.