AAPF Mourns the Murder of Nia Wilson, Calls for Focused Efforts to Confront Violent Hate Crimes Against Black Women

 
 
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The African American Policy Forum grieves the loss of Nia Wilson and we send our prayers for the recovery of her sister, who was also stabbed during last weekend’s vicious attack.  Our hearts go out to the Wilson family, and also to the family of Meshon Cooper and those of unnamed others who have lost their lives to racists who feel entitled to take them.

John Cowell, a 27-year- old white male, has been arrested as the only suspect in Nia’s murder. Police have stated that they cannot conclude that the crime was racially motivated. Cowell’s family has issued a statement that he is mentally unfit.  Nia’s death, and those of other Black women who have lost their lives in the increasingly lethal environment in the United States, cry out for active efforts to confront, to count, and to prevent these crimes.  Her death is not an isolated incident. The AAPF calls for efforts to challenge the permission to hate that comes from the top, and the conspiracies of denial that prevented our government from publishing information that revealed the growing threat of domestic terrorism.  We amplify this call in the statement below.
 

Black Women and Hate Crimes

Nia Wilson’s life was savagely taken on Sunday evening at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland, California.   Both of these developments fit a pattern of assessment that may well underestimate the torrent of racial hate unleashed across the nation and the extent to which Black women are vulnerable to it.   The FBI recently released data indicating that hate crimes in the US continue to rise, yet the extent of the problem cannot fully be grasped given the multiple failures of authorities and society as a whole to confront the rising tide of white supremacy.  While the influence of President Trump’s coziness with white nationalists has occasionally marshalled concern, equally troubling is the official blind eye towards domestic terrorism and the almost reflexive denial about the real risks it entails. This denial obscures patterns of racial violence that render wide populations vulnerable to hate crimes, including women and girls.

Nia Wilson’s name joins those of other Black women who have lost their lives in circumstances that implicate hate crimes, but that have been characterized as something else.  In June 2016, Deborah Pearl, a mother of three, was shot to death by Matthew Ryan Desha following a car collision near Cleveland, Ohio.  Last June, Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Black Muslim girl who had just graduated from high school, was abducted, raped, and brutally beaten to death by a motorist, Darwin Martinez Torres, after he had chased down a group of Muslim teenagers. That same month, David Andrew Desper fatally shot 18-year-old Bianca Roberson in the head while attempting to merge his vehicle into her driving lane. None of these killings were classified as hate crimes although the Pearl, Hassanen, and Roberson families respectively believe otherwise. Mental illness and road rage have been offered as a mutually exclusive explanation for these savage attacks.

Alarmingly, such incidents may be occurring far more frequently than the numbers suggest because of a mistaken assumption that mental illness, road rage, or some other factor visciates hate as a motivating factor in these settings. Police departments across the U.S. do not have clear policies on these matters and many officers lack sufficient training to properly categorize bias crimes when they occur.  Moreover, crimes against Black women may be especially underreported because anti-Black bias crimes have traditionally been framed as crimes against men. Present day reporting of hate-crimes ignore the unique experiences of women and girls of color, and more broadly, the ways in which hate crimes reflect other forms of bias -- for example, gender identity, religion, sexuality, immigrant status and disability.  In fact, the FBI maintains a well-known collection of data on hate crimes against various groups. But rarely does it acknowledge the intersectional dimensions of this type of violence. Accordingly, in 2015, it reported only 32 "multi-bias" incidents out of 5,850 total.

The horrific assaults against Wilson, Pearl, Hassanen, and Roberson remind us that gender has never spared Black women from racial terrorism.  Racial hatred knows no gendered boundaries. Eliza Woods and Mary Turner -- two of the more than 200 documented Black women who were lynched -- lost their lives to the same racist bloodlust that drained the life from Emmett Till.  This murderous expression of racial hatred extends to Black women in contemporary America. In the Charleston church attack, mass murderer Dylann Roof declared, “you raped our women and are taking over our country” before shooting the oldest victim there -- 87-year-old Susie Jackson -- 11 times.  For all the contemporary worshipping of white strongmen by the far right, racist masculinity has never had a problem expressing itself through the senseless murder of defenseless Black women and girls.

 

Politics and Racial Hate Crimes

African Americans remain the most targeted group for hate crimes, and according to the Department of Justice the overall rate increased by 16% in 2017.  The connection between these rates and politics is telling: a recent report revealed that hate crimes more than doubled the day after the 2016 Presidential election and spiked 92% in the following two weeks.  In the 34 days following the Trump election, there were 1,094 bias-related incidents around the US with 37 percent of the perpetrators either directly citing Trump, his campaign slogans, or his infamous remarks regarding sexual assault. Yet what is not so obvious is the role of politics in handcuffing the agencies that are responsible for monitoring hate groups and preventing hate crimes.

In 2009, a leaked Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Report, Right-Wing Resurgence: How a Domestic Terrorist Threat is Being Ignored warned of the resurgence of right-wing extremist activity.  A political backlash ensued.  Twenty conservative groups called for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's dismissal and in the wake of political pressure, work related to illuminating violent right-wing extremism was halted.  Daryl Johnson, who oversaw the report, saw his unit disbanded.  By 2010, there were no intelligence analysts at DHS working on domestic terrorism threats.

The federal government’s abdication of responsibility in this arena extends beyond the abandonment of DHS intelligence.  Life After Hate, a group whose founders included former  white supremacists who today work to stop hate crimes, saw its $400,000 federal grant rescinded by the Trump administration. The important work of pushing back against violent extremists and the prevention of the recruitment of at-risk youths took a backseat to the Trump Administration’s coddling of those who present a clear and present danger to the peace and well being of millions of people in America.  

 

Conclusion

As we hold the families of those who have lost loved ones to racist violence in our hearts, we must be keen to consider what kind of talk we must give to all of our daughters about the cruelty of a racist and misogynistic world?  What kind of eulogies must we give when our talks fail to protect?

It’s time to confront head on the reality that the racist demon that haunts the past has not been cabined there, and has been freed to roam the land once again, destroying lives of sons as well as daughters.  We can no longer use mental illness or road rage or other factors as a catch-all denial of hate.  We can no longer be swayed by partisan politics that prevent us from meaningfully countering the existential threat of far right extremism, nor overlook the very real forms of hate violence that reflect intersectional vulnerability.  Nothing should stand in the way of confronting the real face of terrorism here on our U.S. shores, and the fact that the lives of all of us hang in the balance.

Kimberelé Crenshaw Awarded Doctor of Laws from Smith College

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New York, New York -- May 23, 2018 -- The African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies are pleased to announce that Kimberlé Crenshaw, leading authority on civil rights and Black feminist legal thought, was awarded with an honorary degree from Smith College with the Class of 2018 alongside fellow honorands Carol Christ, Rita Dove, Bob Pura, and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

Smith College honorary degrees are awarded to “women who are exemplars of excellence in a wide range of fields, both academic and non-academic,” who “have had special impact on Smith College, on the education of women, [and] or on women’s lives.”

Smith President Kathleen McCartney spoke at length about the wide-ranging contributions and professional achievements Professor Crenshaw has accrued over the course of her decorated career:

Your influential writings and lectures on critical race theory have exposed the
chasms that racism has carved into American society—and especially into its legal
system. Through your pioneering work on intersectionality, you have shown that
the injustice of a complex world cannot be reduced to narrow efforts defined by
single qualifiers—black or female or LGBTQ or poor or indigenous. You have
shown that only by understanding the convergence of multiple forms of
disempowerment can we begin to address inequity—to, as you wrote in 1989,
"Recenter discrimination discourse at the intersection." You tell us that without
this revised perspective, "some of us, the most vulnerable, are going to fall
through the cracks." Through your scholarship and tenure as distinguished
professor of law at both UCLA and Columbia universities, you have opened our
eyes to inequalities that were unrecognized and unaddressed. For your work in
naming and untangling complex systems of oppression and privilege, Smith
College is proud to award you the degree of Doctor of Laws,
honoris causa.

Crenshaw directs Columbia’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, which she founded in 2011. She is also co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, a think tank that promotes efforts to dismantle structural inequality. The focus of Crenshaw’s research and advocacy in recent years has been encapsulated in two reports and corresponding political campaigns: Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected examines the ways in which Black girls and other girls of color are impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline; and Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, a report on the stories of Black women killed by the police.

Smith College’s honor is a reflection of Crenshaw’s tireless work to uplift and center the needs of those most marginalized within our society and amongst social justice movements. In recent months, Crenshaw was also honored with the prestigious Brandeis University Gittler Prize for her “outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations.” In March 2018, Good Houskeeping named Crenshaw one of ten top women “Changing the World.” And earlier in May, the New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF) awarded Crenshaw the “Celebrating Women Award” for her significant achievements at their annual Celebrating Women Breakfast, which boasted over two thousand attendees.

“[Crenshaw] has witnessed our deepest pain,” said Rhanda Dormeus, mother of Korryn Gaines and advocate of the #SayHerName campaign, during the recent NYWF event. “She has become our rock, […] she keeps us going.”

"She is an extraordinary intellectual and a woman who puts her life on the line for others," said Eve Ensler, a playwright, performer, activist, and board member of the African American Policy Forum. "We honor and celebrate Kim for the depth, generosity and radical radiance of her attention.”

The honorary Doctor of Laws was bestowed during Smith’s 2018 Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 20, 2018 at 10:00am. Throughout the weekend, Crenshaw also sat on a panel featuring the 2018 Smith Honorads and attended celebratory events alongside Smith College students, faculty, trustees, and members of the Office of the President.

More information on Crenshaw’s honorary degree from Smith College can be found here: https://www.smith.edu/news/poet-rita-dove-will-deliver-commencement-address/

Footage of the Smith 2018 Commencement Ceremony is available here:
https://www.smith.edu/about-smith/college-events/commencement/webcast-2018

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The African American Policy Forum (AAPF) is a social justice think tank that brings new voices and broader frames to social justice practice in contemporary America. In partnership with the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, AAPF promotes an intersectional approach to confronting discrimination in order to address the complex needs of marginalized communities. Through public education, youth development, research, trainings, and advocacy, AAPF has elevated the experiences of underrepresented constituencies to enable a more inclusive vision of social justice.

The African American Policy Forum
Columbia Law School
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
www.aapf.org

 

 

Kimberlé Crenshaw to be Honored by New York Women's Foundation at 2018 Celebrating Women Breakfast

New York, New York -- May 9, 2018 -- Columbia and UCLA Law School Professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a pioneer of critical race theory and leading authority on civil rights and Black feminist legal thought, will be honored by the New York Women’s Foundation at their annual Celebrating Women Breakfast on May 10th for her enduring contributions to social justice and equality.

Crenshaw will receive the ‘Celebrating Women Award given to “a woman whose significant achievements have influenced the lives of—and provided a role model for—women and girls.”

[The New York Women’s Foundation’s annual breakfast is the premiere fundraising event for women of consciousness with 2,400 attendees standing with women and girls in New York City. The Breakfast is about honoring the strength and courage of our grantee partners, who find groundbreaking solutions to seemingly intractable problems. The Breakfast is about honoring the visionary women who serve as role models, leaders and philanthropists. [Source: NYWF]

Twenty-nine years ago, Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to describe the exclusion of Black women from feminist theory and policy discourse directed against racism. The particular manner in which Black women are subordinated reflects a compounded interaction of both race and gender that is greater than the sum of both, she argued in an article, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” published in the University of Chicago Law Forum. In 2015, Crenshaw launched the Say Her Name campaign, which calls attention to police violence against Black women, and brings together family members of Black women killed by police to heal and advocate for accountability for their lost loved ones.

Crenshaw directs Columbia’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, which she founded in 2011. She is also co-founder and executive director of The African American Policy Forum, a think tank that promotes efforts to dismantle structural inequality.

“Kimberlé Crenshaw organically combines sophisticated theoretical analysis, brilliant cultural and political commentary, on-the-ground experiential knowledge, and complex legal argumentation to describe, contest, and fashion remedies for some of the most pressing social problems of our time,” said Devon Carbado, Professor of Law at UCLA and Board Member of the African American Policy Forum.

This honor is a reflection of Crenshaw’s tireless work to center the needs of those most marginalized within our society. In 2017, Crenshaw received the prestigious Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize from Brandeis University for enduring scholarly contributions to racial relations. In 2016, Crenshaw was honored with the Outstanding Scholar Award from the American Bar Foundation and the Exceptional Merit in Media Award (EMMA) for her New York Times op-ed, “The Girls Obama Forgot.” She also received an honorary doctorate degree from City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In 2015, Crenshaw was featured in the Ebony Power 100, a list honoring the contemporary heroes of the Black community, and was #1 on Ms. Magazine’s list of Feminist Heroes of 2015.

The Celebrating Women Breakfast will take place on Thursday, May 10, 2018 from 7:30 am - 9:00 am at the Marriott Marquis, 1535 Broadway, New York, NY 10036. Other honorees include Tarana Burke, Founder and Leader of the #MeToo Movement, and Lorie A. Slutsky, President of The New York Community Trust. More information on the Celebrating Women Breakfast can be found here.