When Michael Brown Jr. and Eric Garner’s killer cops weren’t indicted there was uproar across the nation. A collective outrage, a sadness. An all too familiar pain bubbling in hearts enough to make them explode. It was all we could tweet, Facebook, Instagram and discuss in the following days. On Monday, the charges against the Chicago cop who killed Rekia Boyd were dropped. By Tuesday the Detroit cop who killed seven-year-old Aiyana Jones returned to work. My heart fluttered with pain. It’s unfair. Not only would it be business as usual for the killer cops with no justice for the families, but both Black girls should still be alive.
The Chicago community and family of Rekia Boyd are hurt by the injustice. They are left with unanswered questions on how Judge Dennis Porter could dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charge against officer Dante Servin. Rekia, 22, was an innocent bystander when an off-duty Servin told her four friends to quiet down. He claims there was a verbal dispute, he allegedly saw an imaginary object raised by her friend and ended up blowing Rekia’s head off. He, like so many officers who kill our people, justify their actions by saying they were in fear of their lives.
You probably don’t remember her name because the country was focused on the murder of Trayvon Martin that had occurred a month prior. And this is a problem: Black girls and women killed by police and affected by police brutality, are being ignored.
Shortly after Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson in August 2014, a Facebook friend wrote how happy she was to be raising a daughter instead of a son because of the rate Black males are being killed by police. I added an addendum to her statement to remind everyone reading that Black girls and women were also part of the every 28 hours MXGM-founded statistic. In her mind this was an irrelevant point to make because ‘What about our Black boys and men?’ This pervasive attitude is why we can rattle off a list of unarmed Black boys and men killed by cops or vigilantes while barely knowing any of the women’s names. The erasure of Black girls and women from the police brutality narrative must stop. Caring about us is not something we can put off for tomorrow or next week while we continue the fight for Black boys and men.
You may have forgotten or never heard of these names, but they should be etched into your memory in the same way Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell and Trayvon Martin are. There was seven-year-old Aiyana Jones who was killed in her Detroit home while sleeping on the couch. And 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston. And 47-year-old Yvette Smith. And 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson. And 66-year-old Eleanor Bumpers. And 40-year-old Aura Russer. And 50-year-old mentally ill Michelle Cusseaux. And of course Rekia Boyd. If it weren’t for Black women uplifting these names and organizing for Rekia right now in Chicago and New York City, where would they be?
I. Three Black women created the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It is mostly Black women on frontlines of the protests that have spread across the country since Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012. Black women march until blisters bubble up on their feet, write until their fingers cramp, get jailed for protesting the loss of Black male life, yet there is no reciprocity for Black girls and women killed by police. There has never been a national protest for any slain Black girl or woman killed by police. Black men have not showed up in the same way for the liberation of our girls and women. Black men as a whole are not shouting from the mountaintops the names of Rekia and Aura and Michelle. Black men with the lofty academic and TV platforms do not lift the voices of their sisters. They reserve those spaces for our boys and men. The media is not much better. After the initial report of said killing of a Black girl or woman, there is not much more unless written/covered by another Black woman. The outcry over dead Black female bodies never reaches the heights of Black males murdered by cops. As Black women lead the fight for liberation for ALL Black lives, everyone must begin acknowledging, amplifying, fighting for us.
II. One of the reasons beside COINTELPRO the Black Panther Party failed was its rampant sexism, in my opinion. Black women in the trenches were not heard by the very brothers they were fighting alongside, in the same way the Civil Rights Movement shines a light on the charismatic male leaders, all while ignoring the influential women who were crucial in sparking change. A number of Black women have abandoned the fight for justice for this very reason — while we’re fighting for Black males we are being ignored. When a Black woman dare write about why she will no longer march for Black men because she’d prefer using her energy to elevate the stories of the ignored Black girls and women, the backlash is swift. How dare a Black woman want to preserve her efforts for someone other than Black men. How dare a Black woman say she is tired of fighting for a group of men who collectively do not show up for us. How dare she! I don’t agree with everything the writer wrote, and will continue to march for our Black boys and men, but I do understand why a Black woman could reach the point of no return. You feel like you have to choose a side when you’re constantly watching issues affecting Black girls and women being ignored while everyone is fighting for Black boys and men.
III. Sexism, patriarchy and misogyny affects every aspect of Black women’s lived experiences. Black women cannot be expected to set aside or choose race over gender. The two are inextricably linked. Patriarchy is why the narrative of police brutality is centered on Black men when in actuality it should be focused on both women and men equally. It’s intentional that there is no data on the number of Black girls and women killed by police. Not enough people care. Just like when I noted to the aforementioned FB friend that cops kill Black girls and women too, I received pushback; people don’t want to hear about how we’re affected due to good ol' fashioned sexism. People are all too happy for Black women to continue being what Zora Neale Hurston calls the "mules of the world." How sad it is that even Black women perpetuate the narrative that we must protect our sons and fathers at all costs all while putting our girls on the backburner. Our daughters and mothers deserve not to be overlooked and forgotten about. They deserve more than our collective silence.
IV. Fear of the police is not an exclusive club for Black men only. I am terrified when I spot NYPD officers standing on the corners in my neighborhood. Their presence does not make me feel safe. I never know what to do with my hands. Keep them empty or put them in my pocket? I become defensive because at any moment a cop can decide an object in my hand is a “gun” or he was “in fear of his life” and we all know how that story ends. I legit never know if I’m going to make it out of a simple traffic stop alive. The fear of Driving While Black so many Black men have experienced applies to us too. It’s time to recognize Black women do not have some sort of magical privilege as it relates to police brutality. For the officers who are fearful of the people in our communities they only see Black. It won’t much matter that I’m a woman.
V. Cop killings of unarmed Blacks is systematic. It’s a historical violence that is not new, nor is it worse now than any other time period. Citizen journalism and social media has just made the problem harder to ignore, unless of course you’re a Black girl or woman. No one has to shout “Black girls and women don’t matter!” for it to be apparent in the way we treat extrajudicial killings of Black girls and women. Too many people only mean cis-hetero men when they shout “Black Lives Matter!” without giving a second thought to cis-hetero, trans or queer Black girls and women. Aren’t we in this fight to freedom too?
I can’t help but wonder had the murder of Rekia Boyd sparked a national outcry in the same way Trayvon Martin did, if maybe a judge wouldn’t have dismissed manslaughter charges after only four days of deliberation. I can’t help but wonder if Rekia Boyd’s family would’ve had a chance at justice if her name would’ve remained in the media or at protests while we were marching for Mike Brown and Eric Garner. I can’t help but wonder if the judicial system would’ve found the cop who “accidentally” killed her accountable had we kept the pressure on in the same we still organize and memorialize our boys and men. Maybe none of the efforts would’ve mattered anyway, but she, too, deserved the same efforts. Movements cannot continue to count on Black women’s unwavering love and support and leadership all while ignoring our very existence. That’s not how any of this should work. Movements do not succeed without us. And we don’t get to the promised land of freedom without acknowledging and fighting for Black women.
(Photo: Richard Ellis/Getty Images)