The New Republic - January 2, 2020
"In other words, we still desperately need to fully explain how the routinekilling and abuseof Black women and girls at the hands of law enforcement occur at the toxic intersection of race and male supremacy. This nexus of unexamined power simultaneously gathers up Black women in the grasp of disciplinary impulses while also depriving them of the political and discursive tools to hold anyone accountable."
It’s not hard to completely miss something that exists in plain sight. To see is itself a process of precognition—matching up an anticipated picture of reality to what you observe in real time. If there is no precognition, no placeholder mental picture that deems the matter significant, then perception can be delayed—and indeed, in many cases, entirely denied.
This is especially true as it pertains to social problems. For instance, when it comes to recognizing state violence against Black women and girls as a social problem, the sense is that “there is no there there,” even as evidence surrounds us in plain sight. It takes no great effort to unearth video proof and other firsthand accounts of incidents in which police officers attack and even kill Black women and girls. In one stream of footage, law enforcement officers are shown punching, handcuffing, or straddling Black girls in bikinis and school uniforms. Some are preteens; indeed, some are as young as seven. In other footage, there are montage-style shots of a highway patrolman pummeling a Black woman in the face with his fists as motorists speed by. You can also easily track down videos in which Black mothers sought police intervention in disputes with their neighbors, only to be thrown to the ground and handcuffed themselves, or in which a Black woman is placed in a choke hold for barbecuing on a sidewalk. Scores of other shots show police officers yanking Black women out of cars in routine traffic stops, or body-slamming or abusing them in response to a mental health crisis or after a woman demanded service in a restaurant. Then there are the ritual humiliations and abuses of Black women under police detention being paraded half-nude into booking offices, or hog-tied and dragged out of a police cruiser, or tased while handcuffed in a restraining chair. Most Black women who experience these painful and humiliating encounters with police survive. We know, unfortunately, that some, like Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna, and all too many others, do not.
To bring the stories of Black women killed by police into the center of public debate, I founded SayHerName, a campaign that celebrated its fifth anniversary in December. Throughout that time, SayHerName has insisted that we begin to treat state violence against Black women as a fully legible social problem; its mission is as acute today as it was on the day that the demand arose during the massive protests against the non-indictment of Eric Garner’s killer in New York. In my own experience moving through activist circles in the years since the SayHerName campaign began, the names of women like Anderson, Bland, and McKenna have growing resonance. In late November, Senator Elizabeth Warren referenced SayHerName’s impact in a tweet calling for criminal justice reform and acknowledging Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Rekia Boyd, Korryn Gaines, Atatiana Jefferson, and Bland. It’s still regrettably the norm, however, for the media to overlook the root causes of this kind of violence. As a result, the debates we now conduct over race and police accountability still tend to crowd out the experience of Black women—and most dangerously, we also have contributed to the marginalization of the risks Black women confront within the very communities and families tasked, unfairly, with facing up to such risks. This crushing conspiracy of silence is itself a condition of Black women’s intersectional erasure and subordination.
And that is why SayHerName is organized around a simple act of speech: It is a means of reclaiming the public sphere in the name of Black women harmed and killed by police violence. Amid the group’s grim annual task of updating the nationwide list of Black women killed by the police, I’ve often wondered whether it was remotely possible that any of these women were even aware that their lives were at risk.
Read full report at The New Republic