By Dani McClain
A new front in #BlackLivesMatter organizing is advancing today as concerned people nationwide gather to draw attention to black women and girls harmed or killed by police violence. According to organizers with Black Youth Project 100, rallies and vigils in more than 20 cities—including Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles—will demand that onlookers, the media, and the public at large #SayHerName. Participants argue that a truly inclusive movement challenging police misconduct and state violence would make sure the names Tanisha Anderson, Michelle Cusseax, and Tarika Wilson—all black women killed by police—are remembered and used as motivating rallying cries alongside the names of their male counterparts.
Black boys and men are victimized by police violence more often than the girls and women in their communities. But a report out this week that offers the stories of girls and women—both cis- and transgender—whose names are not as well known in the mainstream argues that fewer numbers is no excuse for erasure. According to “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women”: “The erasure of Black women is not purely a matter of missing facts. Even where women and girls are present in the data, narratives framing police profiling and lethal force as exclusively male experiences lead researchers, the media and advocates to exclude them.” Disproportionate police contact puts black women at risk for violence, and the researchers point out that in New York City—a site of ongoing organizing against stop and frisk policies—black men and women make up the lion’s share of those targeted. In 2013, black men made up 55.7 percent of all men stopped by NYPD, while black women made up 53.4 percent of all women stopped. Yet stop-and-frisk and “driving while black” are consistently framed as male problems.
In an effort to explain why it’s so easy for black women to go missing from the narrative, Tamara Winfrey Harris explained the historical roots of the problem earlier this month: “Black women were believed unbreakable long before Kimmy Schmidt came along. Our assumed lack of fragility made our enslavement, overwork, torture and sexual exploitation conscionable in an era when ‘real’ (read: white, middle-class) women were thought in need of white men’s protection.”
The “Say Her Name” report indicates that many of these same perceptions are at work today among law enforcement. For example, no period of time confers on women a kind of protected status more than pregnancy and motherhood, but the report highlights the cases of half a dozen pregnant women and women with children present who were killed or subjected to excessive force by police. There’s Rosan Miller, the Brooklyn woman who, at 7 months pregnant, was put into what appeared to be a prohibited chokehold by NYPD after an officer approached her for grilling on a public sidewalk. There’s also the case of Danette Daniels, a 31-year-old pregnant woman who was fatally shot in the head by a Newark, New Jersey, police officer in 1997. The officer was later cleared of criminal charges. To be fair, hundreds of people marched to protest the shooting at the time. But Daniels’s name is rarely if ever heard among those of others brutalized or killed by police during that same time period, such as Anthony Baez, Abner Louima, and Amadou Diallo.