August 9 will mark the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death, the Ferguson teenager whose killing by Officer Darrren Wilson sparked the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. At Fusion, former Jezebel contributor Collier Meyerson and digital producer Mona Panchal marked the anniversary by producing a devastating and powerful video featuring the mothers of six other men killed by police, who have banded together to demand justice for their loved ones and an end to extrajudicial killings by police officers.
In a larger essay for Fusion, Meyerson looks at the roots of Black Lives Matter, pointing out that it’s a movement created by “three queer black women.” But not enough attention has been paid to the deaths of women at the hands of the police, she writes:
Though Black Lives Matter founders were explicit in their demands—justice for all black people, including trans and black women—the movement had been largely centered around the deaths of black men, about calling attention to their vulnerability. The names of black men shot and killed by police became synonymous with the slogan “black lives matter.”
But in a report entitled “Say Her Name” published by the African American Policy Forum in May changed all of that. The report highlighted the deaths of women at the hands of the state. And they didn’t only include shootings: they included 57-year-old Alberta Spruill, a city government worker, who died of a heart attack after police broke down her door and threw a concussion grenade on a bad tip that there were guns and drugs in her apartment.
It included 23-year-old Shantel Davis, who was shot and killed by an NYPD detective in 2012. Fusion interviewed her sister at the three-year-anniversary vigil for her Davis’ death in a video about police violence against black women.
Salamishah Tillet makes the same point this week in an essay for the New York Times magazine, arguing that in the broader social conversation, women are being erased as both victims of police violence and as part of the movement fighting against it:
When we talk about lynching, police brutality and mass incarceration, we are almost always talking about African-American men, not women. Being a target of racism is seen as patrilineal, a social and political disadvantage that black fathers unwillingly bequeath to their sons but not their daughters. The result is a dyad of vulnerability and invisibility that most African-American women, including me, learn to navigate at an early age.
This exclusion has also been true of the paramount social-justice movement of the moment, #BlackLivesMatter. Two years after its inception, few people remember that it originated with three black female activists, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. But nearly all of the victims of police violence whose cases have been made causes célèbres by the movement have been men — despite the fact in 2015 alone, at least six black women have died in or after encounters with the police.
Sadly, this erasure of women seems far-reaching: Last year, the#WhyWeCan’tWait campaign argued against the exclusion of African-American girls from President Obama’s singular racial-justice initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, while some critics have accused author Ta-Nehisi Coates of marginalizing black women altogether in “Between the World and Me,” his profound meditation against American racism. “Black womanhood in real life isn’t — as it largely is in ‘Between the World and Me’ — about beating and loving and mourning black men and protecting oneself from physical plunder,” writes Shani Hilton on BuzzFeed, in response to Coates’s book. “It’s about trying to live free in a black body, just like a man.
Writing for the Marshall Project in July, Maura Ewing referred to the “Sandra Bland breakthrough,” saying that after her death last month in an alleged suicide in a Texas jail cell, there’s a renewed sense of how police violence impacts women, particularly women of color. Ewing also refers to the Say Her Name report:
The anecdotal evidence gathered in the Say Her Name report — the most comprehensive available — asserts that black women are victimized by law enforcement for the same reasons that men are: racial profiling and traffic stops in the name of the war on drugs. There are also gender-specific forms of violence that are much less talked about. These include unlawful searches during enforcement of anti-prostitution laws, excessive force against pregnant women, and police responses to domestic-violence calls.
Women of color, then, have waited far too long to be visible as both victims of police violence and activists against it. That’s part of what’s so powerful about the Fusion video: these are, in many cases, women whose quest for justice and answers in the deaths of their loved ones goes back years, or even decades. The women are all based in New York; they are Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham, Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez, Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah, Hertencia Peterson and Kimberly Ballinger, the aunt and partner, respectively, of Akai Gurley, and Margarita Rosario, the mother of Anthony Rosario.
“One family alone cannot do it,” Rosario told Fusion. “Standing together, we are a force.”
The full video is below.
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Screengrab via YouTube/Fusion