Three black women — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi — created Black Lives Matter in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, an armed civilian who fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in a gated community in Florida.
"Say their names" has become a chant and a plea to remember people killed by police. Among them is Tamir Rice, 12, who was shot while playing with a pellet gun in Cleveland, and Walter Scott, 50, who was killed running from a North Charleston, S.C., traffic stop. Read some of their stories.
"Stop and frisk" allows officers to temporarily detain and search people based on "reasonable suspicion." New York City’s implementation disproportionately applied to communities of color, and, in 2013, was ruled unconstitutional.
"I can’t breathe" was one of the last things Floyd said on May 25 as he lay dying, facedown and handcuffed, with white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck. It was also the phrase Eric Garner cried out 11 times from a white officer’s illegal chokehold in Staten Island in 2014.
"Black people tend to take things meant to hold them back … and turn them into things that make us stronger, and that’s what happened here," said protester Dayna Crawmer about the way people reinvented the fence as a tool to amplify their messages. Just below her two signs is the word "Ahimsa," a Sanskrit word meaning nonviolence and respect for all living things.
Generally, "defund the police" is a call to take money from law enforcement budgets and put it into other community programs such as health care and education. Some activists have called for abolishing the police and reimagining public safety.
Religious messages are woven into the fence just as disparate faith groups have rallied together. On June 7, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) marched in a D.C. demonstration with hundreds of evangelicals.
Beyond police reform, some protesters wanted to call attention to racial inequalities in health care, housing and education.
In 1619, the first enslaved Africans were brought to Virginia, although Spanish settlers held enslaved people before that.
The fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in August 2014 set off protests that raged for months in Ferguson, Mo. "Hands up, don’t shoot!" became a rallying cry after a friend who witnessed the shooting said Brown put his hands in the air before he was shot. Two investigations later concluded that Brown probably did not have his hands in the air when the officer fired.
Hebrew characters spell out "Black Lives Matter" in this sign. Jewish organizations such as human rights group T’ruah were early and vocal supporters of the movement.
This almost certainly refers to the 1999 fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea, by four New York City police officers as he reached for his wallet. The haunting Bruce Springsteen song "American Skin (41 Shots)" is about Diallo’s killing.
The phrase "No Justice, No Peace" dates to the 1970s, but it was given new life in a 2016 song by Z-Ro (feat. Mike Dean), which Rolling Stone called one "of the most powerful new protest anthems to come out of the Black Lives Matter era."
Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds, including nearly three minutes after Floyd lost consciousness. Protests and memorials have incorporated 8:46 into periods of silence and other remembrances that emphasize how long that is.
Some of the messages poke at President Trump. One of the earliest hallmarks of Trump’s tenure was his fixation on the size of his inauguration crowd compared to President Obama’s. (The D.C. protest crowd has been estimated at more than 10,000 — far fewer than any recent inauguration.)
"Twelve" is slang shorthand of murky origin for police, specifically narcotics officers.
Police reform is an international concern. Iyad al-Hallak was a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian man who was fatally shot by border police on May 30 near the Lion’s Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City. The police report said officers thought Hallak, who was on his way to school, was holding a "suspicious object," but no object was found.
The acronym is short for "All cops are bastards," a longstanding phrase in skinhead and punk culture that has been used widely during the protests against George Floyd's death. It has served as a white supremacist hate slogan, according to the Anti-Defamation League, although the league acknowledged nonracist skinheads used it as well. "Pig" has been derogatory slang for law enforcement since at least 1811.
The American Federation of Government Employees, a union representing 700,000 federal and D.C. government workers, is among the organizations calling for police reform and racial justice.
Black protesters have pleaded for their white neighbors to join their cause, and attitudes appear to have changed dramatically. Protests have popped up not just in big cities but also in white-majority small towns. More than two-thirds of white respondents in a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll said Floyd’s killing represents a broad problem, not an isolated incident, an increase of 33 percentage points since a similar 2014 survey.
Some signs link two sources of worldwide upheaval: the protests and the coronavirus pandemic. Health officials fear the novel coronavirus could be flourishing among the chanting, shouting protest crowds. Communities of color have been hit particularly hard by the disease.
Many signs call for reform-minded people to vote, particularly in the Nov. 3 presidential election, but also in local elections that can make huge differences in individual jurisdictions. Minority communities often have been targeted with attempts at voter suppression.
Protest crowds sang "Happy Birthday" for Breonna Taylor, a black emergency room technician who would have turned 27 on June 5. Louisville police fatally shot Taylor on March 13 after ramming the door of her apartment as she slept to execute a no-knock search warrant. Her boyfriend thought the police were intruders and fired a shot; officers shot Taylor eight times.
On May 28, as a group of protesters hopped over temporary barricades near the White House, the Secret Service rushed President Trump to a secure bunker below the building. Days later, still irritated by the suggestion that he’d been hiding during the clash, Trump said he had been inspecting the bunker, but Attorney General William P. Barr contradicted him.
Masks of 17th-century British revolutionary Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605, are staples at anti-establishment rallies. The mask first appeared in 1982 graphic novel "V for Vendetta" and was famously adopted by the hacktivist group Anonymous.
Long associated with oppressed people, a raised fist became a symbol of black civil rights starting in the mid-1960s. One of history’s most iconic protest images is the photo of U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising gloved fists during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics. "It was a cry for freedom," Smith would later say.
Members of other minority communities left messages of solidarity, including Latinx, Filipinx and LGBT groups.
Protesters moved much of the artwork on the morning of June 10, relocating some to a nearby wall, as the National Park Service contemplated when to remove the fencing.