ABWH Statement on the Modern-Day Lynching of Black Women in the U.S. Justice System
The suspicious death of Sandra Bland, 28, found hanged to death in a Texas jail cell three days after being arrested for an improper lane change, is the latest outrage in the long history of assaults on black women and girls by the United States Justice System.
The members of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) are well aware of the ways that black women and girls in America have been violently discriminated against and harassed by law enforcement officials and the legal system. From the earliest days in the colonies when laws failed to punish the rape of black women, to the antebellum era where black women were brutally punished for resisting rapist-enslavers, to the post-emancipation period when the sexual and physical assault of black women went unabated, and right up through the Civil Rights Movement, the judicial system has failed us.
This history, together with recent incidents against black women and girls such as Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 7, who a Detroit officer fatally shot while asleep at her grandmother’s house; Dajerria Becton, 14, who a Texas officer violently thrust to the pavement at a pool party; Natasha McKenna, 37, who a Virginia officer tasered to death while in restraints in police custody; Tanisha Anderson, 37, who—during a mental health crisis—a Cleveland police slammed resulting in her death; and Rekia Boyd, 22, who an off-duty Chicago police officer shot in the back of the head, stand as a modern-day “Red Record” of state-sanctioned, anti-black female violence.
Black women and girls’ race, sexuality, gender, place of residence, and socioeconomic status continue to shape the kind of attention—or, as is often the case, lack thereof—paid to our health, safety, and welfare. Black women and girls have never been afforded a femininity that deemed them innocent; as such, they have been berated, sexually abused, and brutally beaten by police. Black female victims are readily blamed and maligned rather than assisted or protected.
Given this, we find that it is crucial to say the names of black women and girls killed, harassed, and abused by police and to state unequivocally that discussions of police brutality cannot focus on black men and masculinity alone. Black women are disproportionately stopped, detained, criminalized, and incarcerated, and black girls now constitute the fastest growing juvenile justice population. Transgender women, according to a 2013 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs survey, represent the most likely group to experience discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence at the hands of police. We can no longer remain silent, and we are raising our voices in support of the #SayHerName and #BlackLivesMatter movement.
We call upon the Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch to spearhead independent investigations into the hanging deaths of Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, and Kimberlee Randall-King, and we implore the Obama administration to expand initiatives aimed at curtailing black men’s incarceration to also include efforts to save the lives of black women and girls.
Natanya Duncan, Assistant Professor, Department of History and Africana Studies Program, Lehigh University
Shennette Garrett-Scott, Assistant Professor, Arch Dalrymple III Department of History and African American Studies Program, University of Mississippi
Kali Nicole Gross, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, University of Texas at Austin
Talitha LeFlouria, Associate Professor, Department of History, Florida Atlantic University
Sherie M. Randolph, Associate Professor, Department of Afroamerican and African Studies and the Department of History, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
LaKisha Michelle Simmons, Assistant Professor, Global Gender Studies Program, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
Rhonda Y. Williams, Associate Professor, History Department and Director of the Social Justice Institute, Case Western Reserve University
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