Silence on Black Female Victims Weakens Fight Against Police Brutality
No one can deny black men’s vulnerability in this society and the recent killings of Walter Scott and Eric Harris are painful reminders, but the fact is black women suffer the same injustices. Silence, motivated by sexism and patriarchy, in mainstream and black America is the only reason why it isn’t widely acknowledged. And it’s holding the fight for justice back.
Including black women and girls only strengthens the national case against racist police brutality — not only does it reinforce the aim to stop deadly police violence but also by virtue of our race and gender, black women’s and girls’ experiences highlight otherwise overlooked abuses in the legal system.
For starters, early data indicates black women account for nearly 20 percent of those unarmed blacks killed by officers in the past 15 years. Adding the cases of unarmed black women, women such as Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Rekia Boyd, and, the most recent, Natasha McKenna does not detract from crimes against black men, instead it broadcasts the extreme and unacceptable scope of homicidal police violence.
It also raises awareness about other cases that deserve justice, particularly as the trial of Rekia Boyd’s alleged murderer, Dante Servin, is currently underway.
On Thursday, the Cook County Medical examiner testified that Boyd, 22, an unarmed bystander allegedly gunned down by the off-duty Chicago police detective, “was shot in the back of the head.” Her longtime friend Ikca Beamon testified, “I seen her brains coming out of her head… I just lost it.”
Acknowledging black female victims also demonstrates criminal profiling isn’t just happening to black men, and it isn’t only occurring during police stops. A recent African American Policy Forum report showed black girls who were late or absent from school ended up with criminal warrants. Black girls were also arrested for things like having a tantrum in school at age six.
Even as victims, black girls run the risk of incarceration — such was the case for an 11-year-old rape victim in D.C. Police failed to believe her despite corroborating evidence from the rape kit. Instead she was imprisoned for making a false report. These violations are motivated by the same brand of sexism and misogyny that keeps the brutality against black women and girls hidden in the fight for criminal justice reform.
Sexual violence in police custody is brought into high relief when black women are included. The alleged rape and sexual assault of at least 13 black women by former Oklahoma City Police Officer, Daniel Holtzclaw, serves as the most recent, heinous instance.
The politicized nature of protection also becomes visible, black women’s cases can explicitly show how the justice system fails to protect us at the same time that it egregiously condemns black women. Marissa Alexander‘s case is a recent example, but so, too, is the case of CeCe McDonald, 24. As an African-American trans woman, McDonald served 19 months in solitary in a male facility for fighting back against a racist, transphobic attack in Minneapolis in 2011.
These outcomes showcase a pattern of bias that is not localized to places like South Carolina, Alabama, and New York, but we need to get past the patriarchy and misogyny to put these nationwide systemic inequalities on display.
If we want institutional and structural change, then activists, policymakers, pundits, scholars, and everyday folk must examine black women’s and girl’s treatment in every facet of the justice system — from how their bodies are profiled, to their vulnerability to sexual assault and harassment in custody, to sentencing disparities with respect to race, gender, and sexual orientation. It also means including black women in all reform platforms, whether it’s community-based organizing or on-air TV news discussions or federal initiatives.
It means saying the names of black female victims alongside those of black men.
At the end of the day, because of our vulnerable position in society writ large, if we remediate the biases against black women and girls, it will have a liberatory effect for all.
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