The roll call of Black men and boys killed by police officers in this country is staggering and grotesque.
We — and here I’m addressing white folks like myself; people in communities of color rarely have the opportunity to forget about state-sanctioned oppression — WE, I say again, need to raise our voices in protest. And to not stop protesting until change happens. (Prob’ly need to keep it up after that, too, I’m thinking. This country’s track record on maintaining and respecting civil rights advances ain’t none too good.)
At the same time, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Black women and girls, too, are the targets of horrific, unjustifiable state violence.
This summer, as Mike Brown’s name was added to the tragic list of Black men and boys killed by individuals wielding state power (or by vigilantes imagining themselves as empowered to do so), feminist activists and writers again began asking why the names of black women similarly victimized do not receive the same levels of national attention.
Verónica Bayetti Flores laid out the questions on Feministing:
How are the deaths and beatings of women — cis and trans — at the hands of the police or with their complicity so much less compelling? I think the obvious answer here is misogyny and transmisogyny, not on one specific occasion or by one specific person, but at the systemic level: what tweets get tweeted and retweeted, what events seem newsworthy, and what bodies are deemed to hold value.
I want to mourn the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, and I want to question why the deaths of Renisha McBride and Islan Nettles and Kathryn Johnston haven’t gotten similar traction. Why the beating of Marlene Pinnock isn’t on all of our lips. Why the nation is not familiar with the names of Stephanie Maldonado, or of Ersula Ore. And how many women’s names do we not know because they don’t dare come forward? Because the violence they experience at the hands of the police is sexual, and the shame and stigma around sexual violence silences them?
Let me add to Flores’ list: Rekia Boyd. Raven Dozier. The 16 Black women assaulted and/or raped by an Oklahoma policeman. Tarika Wilson (whose 14-mo old baby, Sincere, was wounded in the hail of bullets that killed his mother). Tyisha Miller. Margaret LaVerne Mitchell. Aiyana Stanley-Jones (and in a painfully familiar narrative, charges were recently dropped against the police officer who shot and killed the 7-yo as she slept on her grandmother’s couch). Denise Stewart. Viola Young. Yvette Smith. The 17-yo girl punched by a cop in an episode that began with police investigating a totally-unrelated man for jaywalking. Tanisha Anderson.
And I’m not even looking hard.
Speaking of state-sanctioned violence, what about the women subjected to forced sterilizations in California prisons? While the now-illegal(-but-really-pretty-illegal-all-along) procedures were performed on women of across races, the justification by Dr. James Heinrich, the OB-GYN responsible for the lion’s-share of the sterilizations, evokes stereotypically racist tropes: “the money spent sterilizing inmates was minimal ‘compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more.’ ”
While we’re on the subject of oppressive actions undertaken by the government against already-incarcerated women, can we talk about the violence inherent in caging young women with sentences that will last throughout their child-bearing years, thus denying them any opportunity to ever become mothers?
Can we talk about how carceral feminism itself — and its advocacy of prison justice as a response to violence against women — supports policies and approaches to gender-based violence that often result in greater harm being done to the most vulnerable (and already-marginalized) victims? [There are righteous people fighting these fights. Please follow their efforts.]
I am out of words to speak more of this pain and outrage.
Would that I was also out of names to list…
I invite you to add other names — and their stories — in the comments.