Black Women’s Lives Matter
#SayHerName march in South Seattle, June 2020. | Sharon H. Chang / South Seattle Emerald via Twitter

According to a report by the African American Policy Forum, the current racial justice movement “has developed a clear frame to understand the police killings of Black men and boys… yet Black women who are profiled, beaten, sexually assaulted, and killed by law enforcement officials are conspicuously absent from this frame.”

Because of this sexism, when Black women are killed, the ensuing protests—if they even occur—are tiny compared to when Black men are killed.

This article has one goal: to convince you to take into account Black women’s lives so that ALL Black lives matter.

A recent article states that police kill one Black woman every month. In early 2015, my students and I investigated the cases of over 50 Black women killed by the police or in custody. We found the following:

In some cases, Black women are killed in similar ways to Black men. For example, in 2012, after a verbal exchange in a Chicago park, police officer Dante Servin shot 22-year-old Rekia Boyd in the back, and later claimed that he thought her cell phone was a gun. As in almost all cases, he was found not guilty.

Rekia Boyd, say her name.

Black women, like Black men, get shot for “driving while Black”—or being a passenger like Malissa Williams. Police had stopped the car, but the driver raced off resulting in a high-speed chase with 62 police cars in pursuit.

Police fired 137 bullets into the car, 15 of which were shot directly through the windshield from the hood of the car—even though a Supreme Court decision prohibits firing on suspects when they present no threat to public safety or imminent danger to the officer. Williams and her friend were unarmed.

Malissa Williams, say her name.

A third scenario, is the specter of “the Black woman with a knife”—and here it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a machete or a butter knife. Take the case of Erica Collins in Cincinnati who, after a dispute, took a knife and threatened to slash her sister’s tires. The police were called, and when Collins didn’t drop the knife, they shot and killed her. Witnesses say the police were never in danger.

Erica Collins, say her name.

Clara Lang-Ezekiel

Another tragic situation involves mentally ill women: The family calls for help and the police kill the woman who needs help. This happened to 37-year old Tanisha Anderson in Cleveland. When she tried to escape the confinement of the cruiser, a policeman slammed her face-down on the pavement, put his knee on her back and handcuffed her. She was left there dying for 20 minutes.

And then there was Shereese Francis in New York, whose family wanted EMTs but got the police instead: They wrestled her onto her bed, and then four of them piled on top of her and suffocated her. And to Kayla Moore, the schizophrenic trans woman who stopped breathing when the police violently restrained her and then refused to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Like George Floyd, these three women could not breathe.

Tanisha Anderson, Shereese Francis, Kayla Moore, say their names.

Another scenario involves women in distress like Anna Brown, a homeless woman in severe pain who was turned away from three Emergency Rooms.  When she finally refused to leave, she was arrested and thrown onto the concrete floor of a cell where she died within 15 minutes.

Anna Brown, say her name.

Then there is “sleeping while Black,” like in the murder of Breonna Taylor.  Or years earlier, when police broke into the wrong Detroit apartment and shot into the dark, killing seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones. Or when plainclothes agents with a no-knock warrant cut off burglar bars and broke down the door at the home of a 92-year-old Kathryn Johnson. Johnson had fired a shot through the door in self-defense; they returned fire with 39 shots, killing her.

Breonna Taylor, Aiyana Stanley Jones, Kathryn Johnson, say their names.

These are only a tiny handful of examples. We must do better to defend these women and protest their deaths. In 2015, when the police officers who killed Rekia Boyd were cleared, the protests drew … dozens. The following year, when charges were dropped against Freddie Gray’s killers, it caused “riots.”

Black women are also policed more and differently than white women. For instance, as Sarah Haley has written, in the first half of the 20th century in Georgia, only four white women were put in chain gangs, but there were nearly 2,000 Black women. A condition of parole for some of these women was to do unpaid domestic work in a white household. After slavery—even though the proportions were lower than for men—Black women were also lynched.

Today, for the same crime, Blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested and incarcerated and that holds true for women. Black women are twice as likely as white women to be imprisoned and mostly for non-violent crimes.

The policing starts young: One study showed that, compared to white girls, Black girls were far more likely to be suspended and expelled from school and in proportions higher than when you compare Black boys to white boys.

Clara Lang Ezekiel

In addition to these examples, Black women’s bodies have been subjected to particular violence. During slavery, rape was not only tolerated but encouraged because of the higher price for children with paler skin. Black women’s bodies have been used for experiments: The so-called father of gynecology, J. Marion Sims, owed his discoveries to surgery performed on slave women without anesthesia (still today, many medical students think Blacks experience pain less than whites).

Black women are not provided with protection for battering and rape since they are understandably distrustful—for themselves and their communities—of calling the police. And no white man has ever been sentenced to death for the rape of a Black woman.

Black women are victimized, but they are also in the leadership of the rebellion. One example is the #SayHerName movement created in honor of Sandra Bland to fight police brutality against Black Women, with leadership by women such as Kimberlé Crenshaw.

And the movement Black Lives Matter has its roots in the work of three young, Black queer women—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—who were activists in groups organizing domestic workers, fighting against mass incarceration, and for just immigration.

Let us rally beside them and say: Black Women’s Lives Matter.

 

Graphics by Clara Lang-Ezekiel


CONTRIBUTOR

Judith Ezekiel
Judith Ezekiel

Judith Ezekiel is professor emerita in Women’s Studies and African American Studies at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. Author of Feminism in the Heartland, she has also published on the U.S. and French women’s movements, Franco-American misrepresentations, and intersectionality of race and gender in numerous journals around the world. She co-founded the French, European, and International Women’s Studies Associations, the first French women of color research group, and was a founding member of the Conseil Répresentatif des Associations Noires. She has been an activist against the war in Vietnam, and in the labor, antiracist, and feminist movements in the U.S and France.

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