"The reality of unarmed African American
women being beaten, profiled, sexually
violated and murdered by law enforcement
officials with alarming regularity is too
often ignored - especially with the focus
of police brutality on African African males."
so many African American women, myself included, Sandra Bland’s death,
resulting from police brutality is not new news. The national attention
it’s receiving is, however.
The reality of unarmed African American women being beaten, profiled,
sexually violated and murdered by law enforcement officials with
alarming regularity is too often ignored - especially with the focus of
police brutality on African African males.
And when gender identity and sexual orientation come into play the
treatment by police can be harsher. For example, my spouse, who would
drive her new BMW (a vehicle cops believe is stolen if a black male is
behind the wheel) to and from work, was stopped suspiciously too often
for the classic case of “driving while black.” And when the Cambridge
cops realized she’s a woman, and a lesbian one at that, their unbridled
homophobia surfaced. My spouse now takes the bus and/or walks to work
as much as she can due to the trauma from the constant shakedowns.
A new report and campaign called “Say Her Name” addresses the lack of
reporting, documenting, and accounting for the violations and death of
African American women and girls at the hand of law enforcement
Just last July, Marlene Pinnock’s, 51, beat down by California Highway
Patrol officer Daniel Andrew was captured by a passing driver and
spread widely on both internet and television. With Andrew straddling
Pinnock on the ground and pummeling her with his fist, Pinnock told CBS
News “He was trying to beat me to death….take my life away. For no
reason. I did nothing to him.”
While it is not shocking news that African American women are arrested
more often than white women in any given city across the country, what
is shocking is the rate at which we are.
For example, a new report from the Center on Criminal and Juvenile
Justice reveals that while African American women in San Francisco
comprise of approximately 5.8 percent of the city’s female
population, they make up 47 percent of female arrests. And these
arrests too often result in death.
African American sisters like Rekia Boyd (March 2012, Chicago, IL),
Kimberlee Randle-King (September 2014, St. Louis, MO), and
Natasha McKenna (April 2015, Fairfax County, Virginia), to name just a
few, are lives cut too short at the hands of law enforcement officials.
While the country was reeling from the news of Bland’s death of July
13th, 18-year-old Kindra Chapman of Alabama was found dead in her jail
cell following day.
Oddly, Randle-King’s, Bland’s and now Chapman’s death are all explained
away as “self-inflicted asphyxiation,” a form of suicide extremely
uncommon among African Americans given our not-to-distant relationship
with this country’s history of lynching. And while African American
women comprise the largest demographic group of females incarcerated
statistics reveal that black women committing suicide is the lowest of
all groups, and hanging is not our method of choice.
The perceptions and stereotypes of African American women - combative,
mouthy, not deferential enough and “angry black woman"- can sadly turn
into deadly action as we see with Bland. Bland’s crime is what’s
described as “contempt of cop." She wasn’t obsequious or subservient
enough when the officer asked her to extinguish her cigarette. And for
something as minor as a traffic signal violation, the incident
escalated out of control. But when the dominant culture doesn’t see and
hear African-American voices about our pains, fears, vulnerabilities
our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist
and sexist stereotypes. So, too, is our suffering.
When Bland was found hanging from a noose made of plastic bags in her
Waller County jail cell, the coroner’s report corroborated the claim
stating there were no obvious signs of such a violent struggle. But
like Bland’s family and friends, I, too, cry out foul play. And
it’s because of Waller County’s long and proudful history for keeping
blacks in their place, and lynching was the preferred method.
I posit that if Bland did not commit suicide then clearly it was a
lynching - a reality in 2015 too harsh and hard to fathom, even in a
remote and still racially segregated corner of Texas.
But Waller County, which is less than an hour north of Houston, was a
county notorious for lynching, and old habits die hard if they die at
all. The Equal Justice Initiative, states that African Americans were
lynched disproportionately higher in Waller County than in any other
county in the state between 1877 and 1950. The memories of family and
friends lynched still lives on in the collective oral history of Waller
County’s African American community. “In this county, they’ve been
hanging and killing Negroes since the Civil War.” an old buddy of
Bland’s, Holice Cook, told the Washington Post.
When Bland tweeted on April 8th “AT FIRST THEY USED A NOOSE, NOW ALL
THEY DO IS SHOOT #BlackLivesMatter #SandySpeaks,” she, too, could not
fathom such act.
But with the recent deaths of Randle-King’s, Chapman’s and
Bland’s there’s a pattern evolving, one in which sadly we cannot
conclusively hang up the thought of lynching for good.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion. A
native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College
and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a
pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity
School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to
MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments. As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com. Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC.
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David A. Love, JD
Nancy Littlefield, MBA