Black women also feel at risk

A new move­ment de­mands jus­tice for the un­armed fe­males who have been killed by po­lice.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Tina Sus­man tina.sus­ Twit­ter: @ti­nasus­man

NEW YORK — Four months af­ter Eric Garner died dur­ing an al­ter­ca­tion with po­lice on Staten Is­land, N. Y., of­fi­cers in Cleve­land found them­selves strug­gling to sub­due a 37- year- old with a history of men­tal ill­ness.

As in Garner’s case, the per­son was black, un­armed and soon dead. As in Garner’s case, the death was de­clared a homi­cide.

Tan­isha An­der­son be­came one of more than two dozen black fe­males who have died in cus­tody or con­fronta­tions with law en­force­ment since 2000, but whose names never caught f ire in the call for po­lice re­form as “Black Lives Mat­ter” marchers called out the names of black males: Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Fred­die Gray. An­der­son’s name re­mains largely un­known, even though she was killed just nine days be­fore Rice, the 12- year- old shot by Cleve­land po­lice while play­ing with a toy gun.

Now, rel­a­tives of the women are try­ing to make sure their names are not for­got­ten, and they have joined forces with some of the same ac­tivists who marched in protests de­mand­ing jus­tice for slain men. This time, they are de­mand­ing jus­tice for slain women in a move­ment called SayHerName.

“If all black lives mat­ter, women should be raised up as well,” said Karl Ku­modzi, 23, who at­tended a New York rally last month, one of dozens held across the coun­try to pub­li­cize the women’s names.

Ku­modzi noted that it was women who launched the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, which has swelled into a na­tion­ally known pres­sure group call­ing at­ten­tion to deaths of un­armed black males. “We’re putting racism at the fore­front, but peo­ple aren’t putting gen­der at the fore­front,” Ku­modzi said. “If all lives mat­ter, you have to do that.”

Ac­tivists say there are sev­eral rea­sons black fe­male deaths are not widely known. There are far fewer of them than those in­volv­ing men and boys. In ad­di­tion, videos im­pli­cat­ing po­lice in fe­male deaths have not sur­faced as they did in the cases of Garner, Rice and Wal­ter Scott in North Charleston, S. C., in April.

But protesters at the May ral­lies said num­bers and videos should not mat­ter. They worry that if Amer­i­cans are not aware of fe­male vic­tims, the abuses against them will be al­lowed to con­tinue, ham­per­ing ef­forts to re­form polic­ing over­all.

“You can’t leave one group be­hind, or you’ll just cause another prob­lem down the line,” said Kisma Her­man, 18. She said the onus is on na­tional lead­ers, from the White House on down, to in­clude women when they talk about jus­tice and po­lice re­form.

“It starts on a na­tional level, like with our pres­i­dent’s ini­tia­tive, My Brother’s Keeper,” Her­man said. Pres­i­dent Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper af­ter Trayvon Martin, an un­armed, black 17- year- old, was shot to death in 2012. The ini­tia­tive is aimed at men­tor­ing young black men and boys and help­ing them find jobs.

“It makes it seem like the boys come f irst, the boys mat­ter, but these boys have sis­ters, and they come from moth­ers,” said Her­man, adding that ac­tivist groups of­ten have urged women to set aside gen­der- spe­cific is­sues for the sake of the broader civil rights move­ment.

“The broth­ers are sup­posed to come first and then, once they’re OK, we can pay at­ten­tion to the sis­ters,” Her­man said. “But we’ve been wait­ing so long.”

As she spoke, rel­a­tives of dead women and girls stood on a stage in Man­hat­tan’s Union Square telling the sto­ries of their lost daugh­ters, moth­ers and sis­ters.

“What hap­pened to my daugh­ter was un­just. It was very un­just,” An­der­son’s mother, Cas­san­dra John­son, said as about 200 protesters waved large pho­to­graphs of the women and chanted, “Say her name.”

Like cases in­volv­ing men and boys, most of the fe­males’ deaths have been mired in con­tro­versy, with po­lice say­ing they felt threat­ened and wit­nesses al­leg­ing of­fi­cers over­re­acted. Also like the cases in­volv­ing men, most of the women were un­armed, many had his­to­ries of men­tal ill­ness, and some had pre­vi­ous run- ins with po­lice.

Some, though, were just un­lucky. They in­clude:

Al­berta Spruill, 57, who died of a heart at­tack when New York po­lice act­ing on bad in­for­ma­tion broke down the door of her apart­ment on May 16, 2003, and threw a con­cus­sion grenade in­side.

Aiyana Stan­ley- Jones, a 7- year- old Detroit girl who was shot dead ex­actly seven years later when po­lice raided the home where she was sleep­ing.

Tarika Wil­son, 26, who was shot dead on Jan. 4, 2008, in her Lima, Ohio, home by po­lice search­ing for her boyfriend.

Af­ter two mis­tri­als, a judge in April dis­missed the re­main­ing mis­de­meanor charge against the of­fi­cer who shot Aiyana. In Wil­son’s case, her fam­ily re­ceived a $ 2.5- mil­lion wrong­ful death set­tle­ment. In Spruill’s case, the city set­tled a wrong­ful death law­suit for $ 1.6 mil­lion, and po­lice apol­o­gized.

Even in cases in­volv­ing women with his­to­ries of vio- lence or crime, ac­tivists say there is no ex­cuse for fail­ing to call at­ten­tion to their deaths.

“The num­bers are not as high, so it’s easy for them to be swept un­der the rug,” said Natasha Dun­can, whose sis­ter, Shantel Davis, was shot to death by a New York po­lice de­tec­tive on June 14, 2012, af­ter the stolen car she was driv­ing crashed. “The move­ment needs to make sure they are not for­got­ten.”

An­drea Ritchie, a civil rights at­tor­ney in New York and the coau­thor of a re­port is­sued last month by the African Amer­i­can Pol­icy Re­form on black women and law en­force­ment, said black fe­males face risks not shared by men. They in­clude sex­ual vi­o­lence and ha­rass­ment from law en­force­ment, said Ritchie, who tes­ti­fied about the is­sue in Jan­uary be­fore the Pres­i­dent’s Task Force on 21st Cen­tury Polic­ing.

The video show­ing a white po­lice­man in Texas tack­ling an un­armed, black teenage girl in a swim­suit this month un­der­scored those added risks, some ac­tivists have said. Zeba Blay, who writes on cul­ture and women’s is­sues for the Huff in­g­ton Post, wrote that the video, and another one last year show­ing a Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cer beat­ing a 51- year- old woman, il­lus­trated “the in­her­ent re­al­ity of both phys­i­cal and sex­ual ha­rass­ment against black women and girls at the hands of cops.”

Both videos gar­nered na­tional at­ten­tion, but the fe­males, Mar­lene Pin­nock in Cal­i­for­nia and Da­jer­ria Bec­ton in Texas, have not be­come house­hold names.

Ritchie said that when she con­ducts work­shops on po­lice vi­o­lence, she asks par­tic­i­pants to name vic­tims of law en­force­ment abuse. They men­tion Rod­ney King, Os­car Grant, Michael Brown, Amadou Diallo and other men. Never do they cite women, Ritchie said. “Pres­i­dent Obama is mak­ing a tremen­dous con­ver­sa­tional con­tri­bu­tion, but he’s also lim­it­ing it,” Ritchie said, echo­ing ac­tivists who say Obama’s com­ments on the polic­ing is­sue have fo­cused on men and boys.

Af­ter a Florida neigh­bor­hood watch vol­un­teer fa­tally shot Trayvon Martin, Obama — the fa­ther of two teenage girls — noted that if he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon. When a jury ac­quit­ted Ge­orge Zim­mer­man in that shoot­ing, Obama spoke of the chal­lenges fac­ing African Amer­i­can men and boys.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Bla­sio has been open about the con­cerns he and his wife have had for their bira­cial teenage son, Dante, in his en­coun­ters with po­lice. De Bla­sio has not dis­cussed sim­i­lar con­cerns he might have had for his daugh­ter, Chiara, when she was a teenager.

A White House spokesper­son said the pres­i­dent “rec­og­nizes the chal­lenges that many com­mu­ni­ties face when it comes to ad­dress­ing is­sues such as build­ing trust with law en­force­ment, in­creas­ing equal­ity and im­prov­ing life out­comes for all young peo­ple.”

“This is the main rea­son he has cre­ated the White House Coun­cil on Women and Girls, the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and the Task Force on 21st Cen­tury Polic­ing — to en­sure that ev­ery­one is able to live in com­mu­ni­ties where they feel safe, are treated equally and can live up to their full po­ten­tial,” the spokesper­son said. “This ad­min­is­tra­tion has also been a leader in tack­ling the is­sue of vi­o­lence against women over the last six years. The pres­i­dent’s work in these ar­eas ad­dresses the per­sis­tent is­sues that are faced by all peo­ple with the ul­ti­mate goal of mak­ing our na­tion stronger for ev­ery­one.”

Ac­tivists, though, say more needs to be done to en­sure women are not left out of the con­ver­sa­tion.

Dun­can, Davis’ sis­ter, wor­ries that cases such as her sis­ter’s are be­ing for­got­ten, even as the na­tion pays more at­ten­tion to al­le­ga­tions of po­lice abuse.

“That’s why I preach about this all the time,” said Dun­can, who held a me­mo­rial ser­vice on the an­niver­sary of Davis’ death at the Brook­lyn in­ter­sec­tion where she died.

“The po­lice por­trayed her as a ca­reer crim­i­nal, but she was un­armed when they shot her,” Dun­can said. “That’s what’s im­por­tant, and that’s what I want peo­ple to re­mem­ber.”

The case is one of sev­eral re­opened by Brook­lyn Dist. Atty. Ken Thompson, who won elec­tion in fall 2013 on prom­ises to f ight racial bias in the jus­tice sys­tem.

It is un­clear whether charges will be f iled against the of­fi­cer.

“We are still in the process of re­view­ing this case to make sure all in­ves­tiga­tive av­enues have been ex­plored,” a spokesman said.

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

“THE PO­LICE por­trayed her as a ca­reer crim­i­nal, but she was un­armed when they shot her.... That’s what I want peo­ple to re­mem­ber,” says Natasha Dun­can, stand­ing on the Brook­lyn cor­ner where her sis­ter Shantel Davis was killed by a po­lice de­tec­tive three years ago.

Car­los Oso­rio As­so­ci­ated Press

DO­MINIKA Stan­ley and Charles Jones with a pic­ture of daugh­ter Aiyana, 7, killed by po­lice in 2010.

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