July 16, 2015 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 the latest victim of police brutality against African American women, says Columbia Law School Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, a leading authority on how law and society are shaped by race and gender.
In honor of Bland, and 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, have updated a report first issued in May, 2015, “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women.” The new version includes the circumstances around Bland’s suspicious death—which is being investigated by the Texas Rangers in coordination with the FBI—and 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.
Say Her Name is intended to serve as a resource for the media, organizers, researchers, policy makers, and other stakeholders to better understand and address Black women’s experiences of profiling and policing.
“Although Black women are routinely killed, raped, and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality,” said Crenshaw, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies and co-author of the report. “Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives, and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combatting racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities 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.
“Black women are all too often unseen in the national conversation about racial profiling, police brutality, and lethal force,” said Ritchie, co-author of the report. “This report begins to shine a light on the ways that Black women are policed similar to other members of our communities, whether it’s police killings, ‘stop and frisk,’ ‘broken windows policing,’ or the ‘war on drugs.’ It also pushes open the frame to include other forms and contexts of police violence such as sexual assault by police, police abuse of pregnant women, profiling and abusive treatment of lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming Black women, and police brutality in the context of responses to violence—which bring Black women’s experiences into even sharper focus.”
In 2015 alone, at least six Black women have been killed by or after encounters with police. For instance, 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.
Say Her Name responds to increasing calls for attention to police violence against Black women by offering a resource to help ensure that Black women’s stories are integrated into demands for justice, policy responses to police violence, and media representations of victims and survivors of police brutality.
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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