Fill The Void. Lift Your Voice.
Say Her Name.
It is for these Black women and girls that the African American Policy Forum launched the #SayHerName campaign. On May 20th, 2015, the African American Policy Forum, the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School, and over twenty local sponsoring organizations hosted #SayHerName: A Vigil in Memory of Black Women and Girls Killed by the Police at Union Square in New York City. Family members of Black women killed by police from across the country came together for the first time in a powerful vigil designed to uplift their loved ones' stories. The family members of Alberta Spruill, Rekia Boyd, Shantel Davis, Shelley Frey, Kayla Moore, Kyam Livingston, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, and Tanisha Anderson were present and supported by hundreds of attendees, activists, and stakeholders.
In an effort to continue to call attention to violence against Black women in the U.S., the African American Policy Forum, the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School, and Andrea Ritchie, Soros Justice Fellow and expert on policing of women and LGBT people of color, issued in May 2015 a brief entitled “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women.”
Say Her Name documents stories of Black women who have been killed by police, shining a spotlight on forms of police brutality often experienced disproportionately by women of color. In addition to stories of Black women who have been killed by police and who have experienced gender-specific forms of police violence, Say Her Name provides some analytical frames for understanding their experiences and broadens dominant conceptions of who experiences state violence and what it looks like. The brief concludes with recommendations for engaging communities in conversation and advocacy around Black women’s experiences of police violence, considering race and gender in policy initiatives to combat state violence, and adopting policies to end sexual abuse and harassment by police officers.
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Black women are outnumbered by White women 5:1 in the United States, yet are killed by police in nearly the same numbers.
On August 1st, Korryn Gaines became one of those women. Shot and killed after an hours long standoff with Baltimore County police, Gaines became the ninth Black woman killed by police in just the first eight months of 2016. Jessica Williams, whose death garnered little media attention despite forcing SFPD chief, Greg Suhr, to resign, was shot while driving a presumed stolen car. She was unarmed and seems to have been fleeing from the officer when she was killed, yet she was still declared a threat to the officer’s safety, legally justifying her death. Similarly, police killed Kisha Michael, “a great mother” of three, even though she posed no obvious threat. Michael was found sitting in a car unconscious at an intersection in Inglewood CA. After allegedly failing to revive her and finding a gun, the LAPD retreated behind cover and fired several rounds into the car, killing Michael and a man who was with her.
Gynnya McMillen died alone in a Kentucky detention center cell. Formally, declared a tragic accident resulting from a rare, and undiscovered, heart condition, McMillen, only 16, was found dead after just one night at the Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center. However, in that one night she was tackled and pinned for over four minutes after she refused to take off her sweatshirt during a search. She was also placed in a cell alone and then largely forgotten about despite being notably unresponsive, a strong warning sign that something was not right. In the morning, Gynnya McMillen lay dead. It is frighteningly unclear whether anyone will face charges for the deaths of these women and the five others killed, but what is clear is that, particularly when compared to their male counterparts, little is known or said about stories and lives of these women.
Just before Freddie Gray’s case grabbed national attention, police killed unarmed Mya Hall—a Black transgender woman—on the outskirts of Baltimore. Alleged to be driving a stolen car, Hall took a wrong turn onto NSA property and was shot to death by officers after the car crashed into the security gate and a police cruiser. No action has been taken to date with respect to the officers responsible for her death. In April, police fatally shot Alexia Christian while she was being handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. And in March in Ventura, California, police officers shot and killed Meagan Hockaday—a young mother of three—within 20 seconds of entering her home in response to a domestic disturbance.
Sandra Bland, the 28-year old Black woman from Naperville, Illinois who was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer during a traffic stop in Waller County, Texas on July 10 and was found dead in a jail cell three days later, is yet another victim of police brutality against African American women. And the six officers who swarmed and tasered Natasha McKenna to death in a Fairfax County Jail will face no criminal charges for their actions.
The work of #SayHerName continues. Including Black women and girls in this discourse sends the powerful message that indeed all Black lives matter. If our collective outrage around cases of police violence is meant to serve as a warning to the state that its agents cannot kill without consequence, our silence around the cases of Black women and girls sends the message that certain deaths do not merit repercussions. Please join us in our efforts to advance a gender-inclusive narrative in the movement for Black lives.
Say Her Name Vigil In Remembrance of Black Women and Girls Killed By The Police, May 20th 2015, Union Square, NY
The African American Policy Forum
Photos by Mia Fermindoza