Black Lives Matter. Black Women, Too.
The often-recited names of these police brutality victims ALL belong to men. Black women who are victims of police brutality are too often overlooked by the media and the public eye. Just like Black men, Black women are being profiled, brutalized and murdered. So why is that when a Black man is murdered at the hands of police officers it becomes a national issue? People are quick to gather their signs, meet up and march from 14th Street Union Square to 125th Street in Harlem yelling out “I can't breathe,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killing Our Men.”
But what about my #TanishaAnderson, #KaylaMoore, #TianaThompson, #SandraBland, #ReikaBoyd, #NatashaMcKenna, and #CharnesiaCorley? Do their lives matter?
If a woman's name does in fact come up during a conversation about police brutality, then ten times out of ten, it’s the Sandra Bland story.
Bland, a 28 year-old Illinois woman, was pulled over and arrested by a Texas state trooper on July 10, 2015 for failing to signal while changing lanes. Bland’s police mugshot began to circulate on social media, and debate broke out about over whether Bland might actually dead in the photo. USA Today reported, “Three days [after being arrested], Bland was found dead, hanging from a noose made from a plastic bag, in her cell at the Waller County Jail. Warren Diepraam, a Waller County prosecutor, said Bland's cause of death was suicide.” After word got out about this case, Bland’s story went viral on social media, sparking #SayHerName.
According to a 2017 Police Violence Report, 1,147 people were killed by police in 2017. The report shows that 92 percent were killed by police shootings. Tasers, physical force, and police vehicles accounted for most other deaths. Officers were charged with a crime in only 13 of these cases, which equates to just one percent of all killings by police officers. The reports also show that Black people only make up 13 percent of U.S population, but are victims in 27 percent of police killings.
The specific impacts of police brutality on Black women are understudied and underreported. Police departments are not required to report this. The violence experienced by Black women is not documented in the same way and doesn't receive the same kinds of media attention. All we know is what we're able to glean from media reports, lawsuits, and instances where the officer responsible for killing someone is criminally prosecuted, and often that story is not reported. Therefore, it's not possible for us to estimate how many Black women and women of color are killed every year by police officers. Black women are not only victims of police gun violence; they are also constant victims of sexual assault, harassment, and neglect.
From the Civil Rights era to the Black Lives Matter movement, Black women have been consistently at the forefront fighting for justice against police violence. Black women are always asked to speak out about their fear of losing their partner, father, or brother. But what if they feared losing their sister, aunt, mother, grandmother?
Racial Profiling and Excessive Force
All Black people experience racial profiling while driving. This issue is so common that the Black community has given it the derisive term "driving while black." Black women are racially profiled and targeted just the same as Black men, and like men, they sometimes become victims of the deadly force officers use during these traffic stops.
On May 5, 2003, Kendra James, a 21-year-old mother of two, was shot to death in Portland, Oregon. Three police officers stopped the car in which James was a passenger. The driver, Terry Jackson, was arrested after officers found that had had an outstanding warrant. After her friend was arrested, James moved up to the driver’s seat. Although James was not under arrest, an officer attempted to remove her from the vehicle. At first the officer used nonlethal methods to subdue James, including pepper spray. However, these methods failed to work. The officer then put a gun to James head and fired a single fatal shot. The officer claimed he shot James in self-defense because the vehicle moved while his bodily was partially inside the car.
A number of Black women suffering from mental illness have been killed by police officers. Due to lack of mental health resources in predominantly Black communities, law enforcers are usually the first responders to mental health crises. However, police officers are not adequately trained to deal with these distressed women. Rather than ensuring these women get the mental health care they desperately need, officers tend to perceive these women as “dangerous,” responding with deadly force.
On February 8, 2015, Natasha McKenna, 37, died in Inova Fairfax Hospital, several days after she had been repeatedly tased by officers in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. Deputies were attempting to extract McKenna from her cell while she was in the midst of a schizophrenic episode. Footage shows that McKenna was already handcuffed, with her legs shackled, when she was tased four times with 50,000 volts. Within minutes, McKenna's heart stopped beating. The paramedics were able to restore her pulse 20 minutes later. McKenna was then taken to the hospital, where she was placed on life support but died a few days later. After an investigation, no criminal charges were ever filed.
On November 13, 2014, the family of 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson reached out for police assistance to calm their daughter down during a bipolar episode. Her family agreed let the police take her to St. Vincent Charity Medical Center for a mental health evaluation. Anderson grew increasingly agitated when police officers separated her from her family and attempted to place her in the police vehicle. During the struggle, police officers slammed Anderson against the pavement. Officers refused to allow Anderson’s family to comfort her as she laid face down on the snow-covered street. While handcuffing Anderson, an officer forced his knee onto her back until she was no longer able to breathe. She pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
A 2010 Police Misconduct Statistical Report found that sexual misconduct was the second most common form of police misconduct after excessive force. These crimes go unreported all the time, so there is no official data on how often they occur. Existing studies are largely based on media coverage, criminal convictions, and civil cases.
June 21, 2015, Charnesia Corley, who was 21 years old at the time, was sexually assaulted by Harris County deputies in Houston, Texas. Corley was initially pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign. Deputies claimed they smelled marijuana in her vehicle, though a search of her car came up clean. Female officers were then called to perform a cavity search on Corley. The female officer forcibly threw Corley to the ground while she was handcuffed, and without consent, she publicly searched her vagina for marijuana. Footage shows that the search lasted for about 11 minutes as Corley laid on the ground exposed.
Excessive Force Against Black Mothers And Their Children
Despite the presence of children, police officers do not proceed with caution when handling cases that deal with Black mothers. Police officers have resorted to deadly measures even while the mother is holding their baby, sometimes harming the child as well.
Just weeks after NYPD officers choked Eric Garner to death on camera, Rosann Miller, 27, was placed in a chokehold by an officer while she was seven months pregnant in East New York, Brooklyn. Officers initially approached her to tell her she could not barbecue in the front of her house. Miller's 7-year-old daughter can be seen standing behind, watching the officer place pregnant mother in a dangerous chokehold.
On January 4, 2008, Tarika Wilson, 26, was fatally shot when a Lima Police S.W.A.T. team raided her rental home to arrest her boyfriend on drug charges. Sgt. Joseph Chavalia fired shots killing Wilson and wounding her 14-month old son, who she had been holding in her arms at the time.
On August 1, 2014 Denise Stewart, a 47-year-old grandmother, was dragged out her Brownsville apartment in Brooklyn. Police officers knocked on the wrong apartment in response to an allegation that a child was being harmed. Even though Stewart informed the police officers they had the wrong apartment, and that she had just come out the shower, she was dragged outside her apartment half naked. Stewart’s four children were brought outside the apartment and handcuffed as well. Minutes passed as the officers held Stewart exposed from the waist up in the hallway of her apartment building. Her neighbors protested and videotaped the behavior of the officers, as Stewart begged for her inhaler and later collapsed. After officers realized they had the incorrect apartment they proceeded to the correct apartment.
Families who lose Black women do not receive the same level of community, media, and political support that families who lose Black men receive, and neither do the women who survive horrific and humiliating mistreatment. Without our support, the families of Black women killed by police not only to suffer the loss of their loved ones, but also the fact that no one seems to care. Black women should receive the same amount attention their male counterparts receive. These stories should not be left silent, because if Black lives matter, that includes Black women, too.