Beyonce’s guests at the MTV Video Music Awards included the mothers of four unarmed black men killed in the US: Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and Eric Garner.
All of their sons were killed by people who were armed, including police officers, transit officers and a volunteer neighborhood security worker. Activists have used their deaths as examples of racism, especially in policing.
Before the show began, Beyoncé posed on the awards show’s special white carpet with Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden-Head; Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton; Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson and Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr.
The mothers were also featured in Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, holding photos of their deceased sons – Brown, the 18-year-old fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri; Martin, the 17-year-old fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida; Grant, the 22-year-old fatally shot by a transportation security office in Oakland, California; and Garner, the 43-year-old who died after being placed in a chokehold by police in New York City.
Martin’s death inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, which grew exponentially after Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri and the intense protests across the city that followed.
After Lemonade was released in April, McSpadden said Beyoncé had instructed the mothers to appear “regal” in the music video.
“I tried to hold it together, but anytime I’m talking about my son – looking at a picture – I just think about all that’s gone and how he had so much ahead of him,”McSpadden told Rolling Stone. “So I appreciate her for being bold enough to confront things and be sensitive at the same time.”
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who has worked on cases involving Martin and Brown, said in April that Beyoncé had personally invited the mothers because she was inspired by them.
“Our clients were honored that out of the hundreds of mothers who unfortunately have to join a growing group of women who lose children to senseless gun violence that Beyoncé selected their sons to honor,” Crump told the Tallahassee Democrat. “They were very pleased that she would use her platform to promote and raise awareness of the need for change”.
Along with the mothers, Beyoncé appeared on the white carpet with other artists who collaborated on Lemonade including model Winnie Harlow and actress Quvenzhané Wallis.