Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women
Farah Tanis, Director of Black Women's Blueprint
Aleta Alston-Toure, Free Marissa Now!
Nona Jones, PACE Center for Girls
Moderated by Janine Jackson, Fair
According to the Black Women's Blueprint, approximately 60 percent of Black girls will experience sexual assault by the time they turn 18.
Homicide by a current or former partner is the leading cause of death for women ages 15-34.
Black women comprise only 8 percent of the population, but nearly 1/3 of intimate partner homicide victims in the US.
Despite the widespread violence perpetrated against Black women within their own communities, and the centrality of their well being to the overall health of Black people, social justice advocates and stakeholders are often silent in acknowledging and addressing this widespread issue. Our inability to talk about this issue reinforces a narrative that the violence perpetrated against Black women and girls is largely unremarkable and warrants no collective demands that it be ended.
The video footage of Ray Rice’s brutal domestic violence assault against his fiance, Janay Rice Palmer, forced us to confront that violence against Black people is not only perpetrated by the state, but occurs privately in the intimacy of our homes and communities. It is the same violence that led to a 20 year sentence when Marissa Alexander defended herself against her abusive husband, the same violence that takes the lives of Black women every day, including the killing of 6 transgender Black women in 2015 alone. It stems from the same source that leads the sexual harassment faced by women protesters in Ferguson and girls and young women in their neighborhoods, schools, and elsewhere.
Violence and sexism within our community is pervasive, systemic and a threat to the well being of our women, men and children. Yet, it is subconsciously facilitated by our collective failure to address it.
The reasons for this silence are complex and myriad, but we need to push back against the community and institutional practices that punish, and even criminalize, Black women victims for speaking out. In an article for Time Magazine, Feminista Jones explained that:
Racism and sexism are two of the biggest obstacles that Black women in America face. But because many Black women and men believe racism is a bigger issue than sexism, Black women tend to feel obligated to put racial issues ahead of sex-based issues. For Black women, a strong sense of cultural affinity and loyalty to community and race renders many of us silent, so our stories often go untold. One of the biggest related impediments is our hesitation in trusting the police or the justice system.
Fear of police or of “airing dirty laundry” often prevents Black women victims from speaking out, pushing this problem to the margins of racial justice and broader societal concerns. When this is a leading killer of Black women, however, we cannot afford to leave Black women victims with nowhere to turn for support or safety.
Today’s event called attention to the myriad challenges associated with private violence against Black women, from domestic violence within the NFL and major league sports, to Marissa Alexander’s case and the criminalization of victims to the broader data on intimate partner violence in relation to Black women. Join us in calling for a movement that holds all those who contribute to Black women’s vulnerabilities to private violence accountable, including state institutions.
Story: Marisa Alexander
In 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida, 31-year-old Marissa Alexander received a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Nine days after she prematurely gave birth to her youngest daughter, her estranged husband, Rico Gray, attacked her, strangled her, and threatened to kill her. Fearful for her life, Alexander fired a warning shot, which traveled into the ceiling.
George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. But even though Alexander faced clear direct violence and did not harm anyone, the law was not applied to her case. Many women who knew the couple submitted letters in Alexander's trial confirming that Gray abused the family, but these witnesses were prevented from testifying. During Alexander’s sentencing hearing in January 2015, the state questioned her fitness for motherhood and presented her as a threat to society. In December 2014, Alexander accepted a plea bargain to serve 3 years in jail and 2 years under house arrest. While under home detention, her plea agreement forces her to pay $105 every week for the use of an ankle monitor, and $500 every other week for bond costs.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
Building the Capacity to Create Change
Join AAPF in elevating the crisis facing Black women! Contact us if you would like to partner on any of the following:
Host a town hall in your community. Watch a preview of AAPF’s town hall series here.
Organize focus groups to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges facing Black women and girls and other women and girls of color in your community.
Is your city an MBK city? Find out here. Work with AAPF to demand your local leaders re-align local MBK implementation to ensure it is inclusive and comprehensive in its vision of racial justice.
Read about Marissa Alexander’s case and the epidemic of Black women victims of domestic violence being sent to prison. Share why you think this wrong online, and why Marissa, and the thousands of women like her, should have all charges dropped. Use the hashtag #PardonHer and #HerDreamDeferred.
Gather a group of friends you trust. On a piece of paper, write down an experience you’ve had with violence. Do not write your name. Fold the piece of paper and put it in a hat. Go around the circle and pick one piece of paper from the hat. Read it aloud and share your reflections. Use the following questions for guidance if it’s helpful.
What does it feel like to hear our stories aloud?
What can we do to support one another?
Prepare Yourself to be an Advocate:
Read this excerpt from At the Dark End of the Street. How does this change your perception of Rosa Parks and the centrality of an anti-rape agenda to the civil rights agenda? Share this important, but unknown, lesson from history with a friend.
Creating Public Will:
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in the African American Community, Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community
Why Black Women Struggle More With Domestic Violence, Feminista Jones, Time Magazine, 9.10.2014
Black Women Face a Greater Risk of Domestic Violence, Josh Sugarmann, Huffington Post, 10.24.2013