By Zachary Bynum
Oluwatoyin Salau. Janet Wilson. Sandra Bland. Tanisha Anderson. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Riah Milton. Dominique Clayton. Michelle Cusseaux. Mya Hall. Rekia Boyd. Yvette Smith. Pamela Turner. Atatiana Jefferson. Miriam Carey.
These are the names of Black women whose murders did not garner nearly enough attention from the news media. Saying their names is how we honor their lives and seek retribution for their wrongful deaths. The system is killing us all, and we can’t be quiet about it anymore.
It has been over 100 days since Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville PD when three officers in plainclothes and unmarked police cars used a “no knock warrant” to enter her home as a part of a drug probe. Knowing the risky nature of the use of no known warrants, the cop’s still aggressively entered her home, startling Taylor’s boyfriend who thought someone was breaking and entering. He fired a single shot, and the officers fired back almost 25 times.
The cops claimed to have announced their presence, even though Taylor’s boyfriend denies this. He was taken into custody for attempting to harm a police officer, and wasn’t released until several days later. Breonna was struck 8 times and as a result, was killed. No drugs were found in her home.
On Friday, June 19, the FBI said it would take a “fresh look” into Breonna’s murder which occured in March. One of the officers responsible was fired for firing his gun “wantonly and blindly,” and the other two were put on administrative leave. None of these officers have been arrested or criminally charged, and an FBI investigation is still underway.
Last week, I wrote a piece about racial capitalism and how it underpins the logic of many, particularly white people’s, response to two pandemics we are dealing with in America, racism and Coronavirus. The response reads with the same scripts of rugged individualism, complete disregard for the disproportionate impact these pandemics have on “frontline”/marginalized communities, and a lack of political and historical context about what inequality in America has done to produce the present.
How Breonna Taylor is framed in the media mirrors that same logic and honoring her death requires us to see this more vividly.
Time and time again, Black people who are unjustly murdered by police are put on trial. George Zimmerman’s attorney used text messages from Trayvon Martin’s phone to say he was really a “thug” who had been involved with guns and drug use. The attorneys in George Floyd’s case tried to bring up his criminal record to paint him as deserving of his fate. The list would be endless if we were to fully acknowledge the amount of Black lives the media have stigmatized and stereotyped in order to somehow make sense of their unjust murders.
Major media continues to ignore the harmful impact policing has had on Black women and women of color writ large. This is nothing new. Policing in America and abroad has its roots in slavery and colonialism; therefore, the narratives of women of color are not missing, they just commonly go unheard.
Police accountability lawyer Andrea J. Ritchie highlights this in her work. Ritchie, who has received praise from prominent activist such as Angela Davis, is a Black lesbian immigrant whose scholarship highlights a serious dynamic to be considered if the movement is going to proclaim all Black lives matter. In order to better understand why defunding the police is potentially beneficial, we must grapple with the impact of gendered racism.
In her book, Invisible No More: Policing Violence against Black Women and Women of Color, Ritchie examines the particularly unique and alarming ways the criminal justice system in the U.S. and abroad oppresses African American women; indigenous women; nonbinary and/or gender-queer, transgender, and gender-nonconforming; those with disabilities; and other women of color. The book provides concrete examples of how gendered racism impacts the lives of these women. Still, a predominant framing persists in the media that police brutality is fully encapsulated in the extrajudicial killings of unarmed Black men. In reality, the police have been waging violence on unarmed, nonviolent people of color and non-cisgendered people as well.
One of the big takeaways from this book is that gender-nonconforming individuals and women from marginalized populations are not perceived as “victims;” therefore, they are seen as undeserving of protection. This book is a chilling indictment of police officers’ treatment of women and the systematic oppression that works to protect law enforcement officers. While Ritchie acknowledges the experiences of African American men as victims of police brutality, she rightly notes that most of the scholarly and policy dialogue about these topics already focuses on black men. By doing this, she seeks to illustrate biases within discourse around police violence by centering women of marginalized populations within this conversation bringing their voices to the front of the dialogue rather than the margins.
The #SayHerName campaign is grounded in the sad reality that Black women and girls who are often targeted, brutalized, and killed by police are too often excluded from mainstream narratives around police violence. The #SayHerName movement uplifts those stories of Black women killed by police and who’ve experienced gender-specific forms of police violence. In doing this, the campaign is meant to provide analytical frames for understanding their experiences and broadening the predominant conceptions of who experiences state violence. The media moulds the belief of others, that it is mainly black men; but the truth of the matter is – this violence has been routinely enacted on Black people of all genders, shape, and sizes.
This campaign is timeless. Ending police brutality and the use of deadly force is as old as the civil rights movements itself. In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his speech at the March in Washington, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” The seventh point of the Black Panther Party Platform of 1966 reads, “We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.”
In order to do that, we have to #SayHerName.
- Honor the memories and tell the stories of Black women and girls who have been killed by the police. #SayHerName
- Invest in forms of community safety and security that do not rely on police officers.
- Defund the police and divert those resources back to where they were taken from: mental health services, domestic violence services, shelters for people without homes, education, increasing jobs, etc.
- Hold police accountable for violence against Black women and girls. Both the City and officers involved must admit liability, and issue apologies to the families and communities of women and girls killed, abused, and assaulted by officers.
- Create and pass reforms that specifically address the home as a site of police violence against Black women.
- End the use of no-knock warrants.
- End the practice of sending officers to mental health and domestic disturbance calls. Officers should not be first responders to mental health crisis calls.
- Adopt and enforce police department policies banning officers from searching people to assign gender based on anatomical features. Require officers to respect gender identity and expression in all police interactions, searches, and placements in police custody
- Create and enact use-of-force policies to prohibit the use of Tasers or excessive force on pregnant women or children.