Hawa Tarawally and Carrie N. Baker: #SayHerName: Spotlighting police violence against Black women


Published: 6/24/2020 1:39:14 PM

Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Kathryn Johnston, Mya Hall, Breonna Taylor, India Kager, Korryn Gains, Atatiana Jefferson, Tanisha Anderson, Michelle Cusseaux, Kayla Moore. #SayHerName!

We know the names of many Black men killed by police, but what about Black women?

Legal scholar and activist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw created the #Say Her Name campaign in 2015 to raise awareness about police violence against Black women and girls. The campaign has produced two reports documenting this violence: “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women” and “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.”

According to Crenshaw, Black females make up about 11% of the total population of females in the United States, yet 33% of women and girls killed by police violence are Black. They range in age from 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, killed while sleeping in her bed, to 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, killed when police barged into her house and shot 39 bullets at her. Police especially target Black transgender women, such as Mya Hall, killed by National Security Agency police after she made a wrong turn off a highway exit and police began shooting at her car.

Police kill Black women during traffic stops, while policing poverty, and in the course of mental health and wellness checks. According to the Say Her Name report, police frequently describe Black women as “armed or dangerous.”

However, witnesses often dispute officers’ versions of the facts and say that less lethal force could have been used, especially in cases where Black women were experiencing mental health crises or had called for help in domestic disputes.

Perceptions of Black women as menacing and their bodies as “superhuman” — and, therefore, not susceptible to pain or shame — inform police interactions with them in much the same way as they do those with Black men. These fears are often perceived as reasonable, no matter how vulnerable or in need of help a woman is.

Crenshaw’s #SayHerName campaign shares many stories of Black women killed by police.

Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old emergency medical technician asleep in her bed when the police killed her. They mistakenly entered her home in the middle of the night on a no-knock warrant while searching for a suspect who had already been detained.

India Kager was a post office worker and Navy veteran killed by the police with her four-month-old child in the backseat.

Korryn Gaines held her 5-year-old son in her arms when police killed her after arriving at her home with a failure-to-appear warrant from a traffic violation.

Atatiana Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when police killed her after entering her property concealed and unannounced on a wellness check.

Tanisha Anderson was in a mental health crisis whom police killed after her family called for assistance. A policeman performed a “takedown” move on her, placing his knee on her back and handcuffing her as she lay face-down on the pavement.

Michelle Cusseaux was changing her locks when police shot her in the heart after arriving at her house for a mental wellness check and saw her holding a hammer.

Kayla Moore was in her bedroom when police suffocated her to death while calling her transphobic slurs and refusing to perform CPR. Her last words were, “I can’t breathe.”

The lack of police accountability for the killing of Black men extends to the killing of Black women by police. Just as many police who kill Black men get away with it, officers who kill Black women and girls also often escape punishment.

Despite the increasing number of black women who have lost their lives to police brutality and those who remain at risk, very little is known about these women. Until recently, police killing of Black women received little or no media attention. Crenshaw and her #SayHerName campaign is striving to lift up the stories of Black women killed by police.

We need to know who they were, how they lived and why they suffered at the hands of the police. We need to bring them to the attention of activists, media and policymakers with an understanding that their death is no less important, nor is the mourning of their loved ones.

Black Lives Matter means all Black Lives Matter: Black women and men, boys and girls, transgender women and gender non-conforming people.

Oluwatoyin Salau, Duanna Johnson, Eleanor Bumpurs, Tyisha Miller, LaTanya Haggerty, Margaret Mitchell, and Tarika Wilson, Shelly Frey. #SayHerName!

Hawa Tarawally is a human rights activist and a junior at Smith College. Carrie N. Baker is professor and chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College.

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