Weeks after Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, Fla., in 2012, a Chicago police officer fatally shot an unarmed 22-year-old black woman in the head as he fired into a group in the early hours of a March morning.
Not long after Michael Brown, 18, was killed in Ferguson, Mo., last summer, a 21-year-old black woman was found dead in a Pagedale, Mo., cell after being picked up on warrants over a dispute she allegedly had. She had hanged herself with her T-shirt, authorities said, adding that they had video because of cameras in the facility. The case is now closed.
And in February, before Freddie Gray died from injuries sustained while in the custody of Baltimore police in April, a 37-year-old black female inmate just down the road in Fairfax County, Va., died several days after being shocked with a stun gun. At least six officers were present as the mentally ill woman — hands cuffed, feet shackled and head hooded in a spit mask — was Tasered four times. A medical examiner’s ruling that “excited delirium” was the cause of death has been controversial.
Rekia Boyd. Kimberlee Randle-King. Natasha McKenna.
Their names and their stories — as well as those of other black women who have been killed by police or died while in their custody — are the focus of several days of activity this week meant to highlight what some activists say has been missing from the national discussion on race and criminal justice: Black women are dying, too, not just black men.
They are killed during traffic stops, die in police custody, become “collateral damage” in the war on drugs, and, in situations that intertwine loss and incredulity, can be killed in their homes after they or someone else has sought police help in a crisis.
“Yet black women who are profiled, beaten, sexually assaulted and killed by law enforcement officials” are too often invisible. And that invisibility can intensify when sexual orientation and gender identity — such as transgender women — are involved.
Those conclusions are in a policy brief titled “#SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women,” set for release Wednesday. The work is co-authored by the African American Policy Forum, a think tank focused on economic and gender inequality, and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies.
The brief’s release coincides with a vigil in New York’s Union Square. The brief and vigil are coordinated with a day of action planned for Thursday in 11 cities. Those events are organized by Black Youth Project 100, #BlackLives Matter and Ferguson Action.
“If we are going to be serious about changing the relationship between black people and the police, we have to tell the full story,” said Charlene Carruthers of BYP100.
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, among the authors of the brief and a co-founder of AAPF, said, “Women from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, women who have left children behind, women . . . who had mental health issues” will be remembered Wednesday.
Crenshaw is a law professor at UCLA and Columbia University, and is credited for her “intersectionality” theory, which examines how forms of bias interact.
National data collection on police fatalities has been difficult because local authhorites report them voluntarily to the federal government. Better collection is among the calls for reform.
The #SayHerName” brief, which includes cases such as those of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, killed in a Detroit drug raid, and Mya Hall, a transgender woman killed in Maryland — is not comprehensive. It is a precusor to a more deeply researched report.
“Our goal was simply to illustrate, by way of cases easily discoverable through an Internet search, the reality that black women are killed and violated by police with alarming regularity . . . and the ways in which this reality is erased from our demonstrations, our discourse and our demands,” the document notes
The “#SayHerName” campaign was launched last year, about the time that Tanisha Anderson and Tamir Rice were killed by Cleveland police within weeks of each other. Tamir, 12, was shot as he played with a pellet gun in a park. Anderson, 37, battled bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Her family called police to help take her to a hospital, but she was thrown to the ground by an officer when she began to struggle. She never recovered, and her death was ruled a homicide. The family is pursuing a wrongful-death suit.
“People rightfully held up Tamir’s name [at protests], but for reasons we couldn’t understand, people did not hold up Tanisha’s name,” Crenshaw said.
“It’s about time,” Harvey Volzer, the attorney for Natasha McKenna’s family, said about a focus on black women. “I can’t in my wildest dream believe that she’s the only black woman who has had this happen to her. . . . And no one has covered this from this angle.”
Martinez Sutton, the older brother of Rekia Boyd, said he plans to go to the vigil. Working with activists in Chicago, he has campaigned to keep his sister’s story in the media and has traveled to Geneva to tell her story.
BYP100 has also been working to bring attention to her case.
So has Crista Noel, a Chicago activist who, after being beaten by an officer in 2009, co-founded Women’s All Points Bulletin, a group that aims to protect women against police violence.
“When it comes to women, ‘marginalized’ isn’t even the word for it,” she said. “We use the term ‘invisible.’ ”
Patrisse Cullors, one of the three women who co-founded #BlackLivesMatter, is aware of the irony that — in light of Trayvon Martin’s case — they provided the framework for a movement that has swept the country yet have found women’s stories almost erased from it.
There is a long history of focusing on black men while losing the stories of black women, she said. Rosa Parks, for example, risked her life investigating the gang rapes of black women years before she refused to give up her bus seat, Cullors and others have noted.
That history of injustices against black women and their resistance to it gets “disappeared” Cullors said, This time, she said, she and others are determined to make sure that no longer happens.
The Charlene Carruthers quote has been corrected to reflect use of the term “black people” rather than “African American”.