In May 2015, a group of Black women stood topless in San Francisco traffic. They held up signs reading names of Black women and girls who were victims of police-involved incidents.
Rekia Boyd. Shantel Davis. Shelley Frey. Kayla Moore. Kyam Livingston. Miriam Carely. Michelle Cusseaux. Tanisha Anderson.
Demonstrators rallied to chant those three affirming words in Chicago, Washington, D.C., New Orleans and New York City, as well.
The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, led to the mobilization of thousands around the world against police violence on Black people. Yet the women above who had similar fates were unknown to much of the masses. Did their Black human female lives not matter enough to be marched for too?
Again in July 2015, a video surfaced of a Waller County, Texas, police officer using excessive force to arrest a 28-year-old Black woman named Sandra Bland. She died in police custody with authorities ruling it suicide. The footage went viral and her name became a trending topic on social media. Unfortunately, it was her death that catapulted the #SayHerName movement and began to shift the narrative that Black women and girls, not just men and boys, are also vulnerable to police violence in America. Caring should not have begun with Sandra, but it definitely shouldn’t end with her either.
Just this past week, another Black woman’s name is making headlines to remind us again.
“What’s happening right now? Who is outside?” a woman’s voice is heard asking in a video.
“The police,” a boy replies. He is looking up to the camera.
“And what are they trying to do?,” she asks.
“They are trying to kill us.”
This recorded dialogue captured some of the final moments of Korryn Gaines life, the ninth Black woman to be killed by police officers this year.
Baltimore police officers arrived to an apartment complex Monday to serve arrest warrants for the 23-year-old woman and her boyfriend. She refused to comply and remained inside of her home. Her boyfriend ran off with an one-year-old. He nor the baby was harmed, the Baltimore Sun reports.
Police then obtained the key to her door from her landlord and entered. Gaines allegedly pointed her legal shotgun at an officer and threatened to kill them if they did not leave, police say. A cop then opened fire. She shot back, but no officers were struck, according to police reports. Gaines died, but her little boy is recovering from a gunshot wound.
Gaines posted the conversation between she had with her five-year-old son to her Instagram and Facebook pages during the ordeal. Aware of her activity, authorities requested her profile pages be shut down. They believed people leaving comments under her posts were interfering with their negotiations with Gaines during the stand-off.
Baltimore police say officers at the scene were not wearing body cameras, leaving police reports to tell one side of the story. But Gaines videos of previous encounters with police has many people who viewed them speculating what was going through her mind before she was killed. We may never know.
What is certain is that Gaines and others before her were not exempt from troublesome police encounters because of gender.
Similarly for Black boys, the marginalization for Black girls begins early. We watched as a McKinney, Texas police officer slammed a teenage African-American girl to the ground outside a pool party. In Columbia, South Carolina, a deputy flipped a Black female student out of her desk and dragged her to the ground in a classroom. Black girls are suspended six times more than white girls. Stories about black girls being reprimanded for wearing their natural hair to school or arrested for having temper tantrums are documented each academic year.
Black women’s interactions with police are likely to involve another layer of harm: sexual assault. Last year Black women led the charge on social media in drawing attention to Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer, who is serving 263 years in prison for the rape and assault of 13 Black women.
The deafening silence around the victimization of Black women and girls is why Holtzclaw believed he could prey on his victims. He thought they would never see justice. History shows they do not a majority of the time, but fortunately he was wrong.
We have to also watch our language in response to incidents of police abuse. “How do I raise my son in America?” “How do I speak to my son about how to deal with the police?” “Why do I have to worry for my husband?”
But, how often do we ask the same of Black girls and women?
Black women deserve better. Because movement after movement, Black women have been ride or die for the liberation for Black men, women and LGBT lives, whether they’re given credit or not. The list of heroines are endless: from Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Angela Davis to the Black Lives Matter organization, founded by three Black women Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors.
It was State Attorney Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore who pushed for justice for Freddie Gray and calmed weeks of unrest in the city following his death. Activist Bree Newsome scaled a pole and pulled down the Confederate flag in South Carolina, before officials voted to outlaw it. Black mothers of victims of police violence have made it their life’s mission to ensure their children’s lives are not in vain. Speaking at event after event carrying a burden they did not ask for. And the tradition continues, as seen with four Black teenage Chicago girls, who organized a massive protest against police brutality last month.
Recently, Cali-rappers Snoop Dogg and The Game met with the LAPD to discuss community and police relationships. They called for women and children to stay home. I was glad to see them stand up for their community, but I could not help but wonder why Black women were left out of the discussion in that moment. To me it seemed like hustling backwards.
And it is not to say that there is no time for men to meet among men. Black men have a lot of work to do among themselves. And it’s bigger than just celebrating Black women’s natural hair or melanin bodies. It’s asking, what barriers are blocking Black men from seeing Black women and queer-identifying individuals’ daily fight as their own?
Now that we’re here we must end the attacks against Black women and turn up the volume when we address the struggles Black girls and women face. It is not divisive to do so. What is divisive is leaving their voices out to dry. Progress has to be inclusive.
Beyoncé boldly amplified this thought when sampling a Malcolm X speech in her “Lemonade” film: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
We often teach our girls to support Black boys and men because they have it hard. And they do. But we must also teach Black boys and men to do the same for Black girls.
Because they too, are becoming hashtags.