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After a week of mourning Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — two black men who died in brutal police encounters in Baton Rouge and Minnesota — and the five Dallas law enforcement officials, Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol and Michael Smith, gunned down in a sniper attack during protests against police brutality, it is time to understand the movement at the center of the debate on race in America.

This is more so after a white Detroit police officer, Nathan Weekley, notoriously took to Facebook last week to denounce a movement and its supporters as racists and terrorists.

Black Lives Matter, which grew out of the national outrage over the death of a black Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent acquittal of his shooter, George Zimmerman, does not exist to promote racial supremacy or dominance of one skin color against the other as some would want us to believe.

The movement wants fairness and equal protection under the law. Its members are simply demanding that the same benefit of citizenship that is extended to whites during police encounters be extended to blacks as well in their encounters with law enforcement. Everyone, irrespective of race, should enjoy the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Black Lives Matter is not saying that this nation belongs only to blacks. No. It’s simply demanding that blacks be given their due under the law. It is not promoting black supremacy or racism. It is promoting our common citizenship and common humanity.

After all, what meaning do the words of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,” have when the humanity of blacks cannot be affirmed any time they come into contact with police?

This nation’s history is punctuated with many events that showed how blacks have been in perils, systematically targeted, or treated as guilty without the benefit of due process.

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich admitted during a July 8 live Facebook conversation that there is an inherent bias in police encounters with blacks.

“It took me a long time, and lot of people talking to me to understand that if you are a normal white American, the truth is that you don’t understand being black in America, and you instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk,” Gingrich said.

“Sometimes for white people, it’s difficult to appreciate how real that is,” he added. “If you’re an African-American, you’re raising your teenage boys to be very careful in obeying the police. Literally, their lives are at risk and they can see that on television. At the same time, if you’re a normal Caucasian, you don’t see that, that’s not part of your experience. What we need is to have a conversation about mutual experiences.”

Gingrich’s submission to this longstanding bias in our criminal justice system is an affirmation of what the Black Lives Matter restorative justice mission stands for: “collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for black people and by extension all people.”

Unlike the Civil Rights Movement, which centered around such iconic figures as Rosa Parks and the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson Sr. and C.T. Vivian, the Black Lives Matter movement is egalitarian and does not revolve around well-known personalities.

Being populist in nature, it revolves around the highly important issues of human dignity, fairness and freedom. And in this era of online crowdsourcing and camaraderie, that is what we should expect. The Occupy Wall Street movement had no notable leader as such. The same could be said about the tea party movement. Each was conceived and driven by people with a common vision and goals.

So, the Black Lives Matter movement should rightly be seen within the context of the freedoms of expression, association and movement that are fundamental principles of our long-standing democracy. It is the God-given right of the marchers to express their dislike for persistent unfairness and injustice against blacks, and publicly but peacefully demand redress.

Doing so is not a crime, but an exercise of their citizenship.

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910 AM Wednesdays and Fridays. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.

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