Between George Floyd’s killers being arrested and Rayshard Brooks’ killer being fired and facing potential murder charges, the protests in America may well be shifting the paradigm on justice. Yet one particular reality is still glaring: Breonna Taylor’s killers are still roaming free.
The deafening silence around Breonna Taylor’s death is representative of a pattern that we have seen with Michelle Cusseax, Korryn Gaines, Kayla Moore, Sandra Bland, India Kager, Shelly Frey and so many more known and unknown Black women who have had their lives cut short due to police violence. On this episode, “Say Her Name: Telling Stories of State Violence and Public Silence,” we felt that it was only right to discuss this with the mothers and sisters of those who know the silence all too well. We asked our guests -- Fran Garrett, Rhanda Dormeus, Maria Moore, Sharon Cooper, Gina Best, and Sharon Wilkerson -- to uplift their daughters stories, and explore ways that American life could be different...and better.
Our first guest, Maria Moore, sister of Kayla Moore, shared her reflections on the parallels between the death of her sister and the death of George Floyd. She explored the conditions and risks surrounding her sister’s last words: “I Can’t Breathe.” As one of many women who died in the midst of a 911 mental health call, Kayla’s last words show her desperation and how the police deliberately denied her of the help she needed. Maria said of this moment: “What we are learning is that officers are incapable of de-escalation, they are incapable of providing care, it is all about control and subduing a situation.”
We then spoke to Fran Garrett, the mother of Michelle Cusseaux. Similar to Kayla, Michelle was killed by Phoenix Police in the midst of a mental health crisis. Fran is referred to as the “godmother” of #SayHerName because of her decision to march her daughter’s casket down to city hall and demand justice for her daughter. “She didn’t deserve to die, the world was going to recognize this.” Fran also spoke to how fear plays into the justification of lethal force. She said that because the officer came to find Michelle -- a Black, lesbian, woman -- he saw someone to be feared instead of being worthy of protection. Fran stated, “If he feared for his life, he should have turned in his badge right then and there.”
Next, Rhanda Dormeus, mother of Korryn Gaines, discussed how despite her being on the scene attempting to assist the police in de-escalation, the police persisted in intensifying the situation. The officer admitted in his deposition that he was not able to see Korryn, yet he shot at her out of frustration. Rhanda explained how the mainstream media neglected to include that in their narrative of the events that led to her death: “When a narrative is presented by the media and the officers, it is already thrown out of context.”
Professor Crenshaw then spoke to Sharon Cooper, sister of Sandra Bland. Similar to the story of Korryn Gaines, Sandra Bland found herself at the hands of the police over a traffic violation. Sandra advocated for her rights throughout the course of her arrest, only to see the officer escalate the situation. Sharon stated that Black women and girls are often perceived as objects that need to be placed under control. “What makes our [lives] seen as less than is that we’ll never be seen as wholes but as three fifths.”
Professor Crenshaw then spoke to Gina Best, mother of India Kager. India was killed by Virginia Beach Police while with her child in the parking lot of a 7/11. In discussing the events that led to her daughter’s death, Gina emphasized how dominant narratives told by the police assign Black women as responsible for their own deaths. With India, the dominant narrative was that the police were unable to see the baby with her despite the actual reports of the police following her around for three hours. “We accept the narrative that they put out: that no matter what has happened, the police are correct.”
Sharon Wilkerson spoke to the trauma of children who are left behind when their mothers die from police violence. Sharon’s daughter Shelley Fray was killed by Houston Police in 2012. She expressed the traumatizing realities of losing a daughter to police violence, and spoke further into the ways that dehumanization plays out in the life -- and death -- of Black women. The entirety of the show — which moved from the mothers above-articulated stories into a more free-flowing, emotional roundtable — can be found as an edited podcast (here), or as a YouTube replay (here).