ABWH Statement on the Modern-Day Lynching of Black Women in the U.S. Justice System

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


Suggested Reading:

African American Policy Forum, “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women,” PDF link here

David V. Baker, “Black Female Executions in Historical Context,” Criminal Justice Review 33, No. 1 (March 2008): 64-88.

Elizabeth Bernstein, “Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns,” Signs 36, No. 1 (2010): 45-71.

Anne Butler, Gendered Justice in the American West: Women Prisoners in Men’s Penitentiaries (University of Illinois Press, 1997).

Hazel V. Carby, “Policing the Black Woman’s Body in an Urban Context,” in Critical Inquiry, 18, No. 4 (Summer 1992): 738-755.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, et al., “Symposium: Overpoliced and Underprotected: Women, Race, and Criminalization” Special Issue of UCLA Law Review 59, No. 6 (2012).

Mary Ellen Curtin, “The ‘Human World’ of Black Women in Alabama Prisons, 1870-1900,” in Hidden Histories of Women in the New South, edited by Virginia Bernhard, Betty Brandon, Elizabeth Fox Genovese, Theda Purdue, and Elizabeth Hayes Turner (University of Missouri Press, 1994).

Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

Crystal Feimster, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching (Harvard University Press, 2011).

Kali N. Gross, “African American Women, Mass Incarceration, and the Politics of Protection,” Journal of American History 102, No. 1 (July 2015): 25-33.

Kali N. Gross, Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910 (Duke University Press, 2006).

Sarah Haley, “‘Like I was a Man’: Chain Gangs, Gender, and the Domestic Carceral Sphere in Jim Crow Georgia.” Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society (Winter, 2013).

Christina B. Hanhardt, Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence (Duke University Press, 2013).

LaShawn Harris, “‘The Commonwealth of Virginia vs. Virginia Christian’: Southern Black Women, Crime, and Punishment in Progressive Era Virginia,” Journal of Social History 47, No. 4 (Summer 2014): 922-942.

Cheryl Hicks, Talk with You Like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and 
Reform in New York, 1890-1935 (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

Talitha L. LeFlouria, Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

Jill McCorkel, Breaking Women: Gender, Race, and the New Politics of Imprisonment  (New York University Press, 2013)

Danielle McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power (Vintage, 2011).

Jonathan Metzel, The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease (Beacon, 2011).

Sherie M. Randolph, Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

Beth Richie, Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation (New York University Press, 2012).

Beth Richie, “Queering Antiprison Work: African American Lesbians in the Juvenile Justice System.” in Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex, edited by Julia Sudbury (Routledge, 2005), 73-86.

Dorothy Roberts, “Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality, 
and the Right of Privacy,” Harvard Law Review 104, No. 7 (1990): 1419-1482.

Hannah Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Post-emancipation South(University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Assata Shakur, “Women in Prison: How We Are,” The Black Scholar 12, No. 6 (1981): 50-57.

Evelyn M. Simien, Gender and Lynching: The Politics of Memory (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

LaKisha Simmons, Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

Eric Stanley and Nat Smith, eds., Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (AK Press, 2011).

Brenda Stevenson, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Julia Sudbury ed., Global LockdownRace, Gender and the PrisonIndustrial Complex (Routledge, 2004).

Megan Sweeney, Reading is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women’s Prisons (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

Megan Sweeney, The Story Within Us: Women Prisoners Reflect on Reading (University of Illinois Press, 2012).

Emily Thuma,  “Against the ‘Prison/Psychiatric State’: Anti-violence Feminism and the Politics of Confinement in the 1970s,” Feminist Formations 26, No.2 (Summer 2014): 26-51.

Kidada Williams, They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I (New York University Press, 2012).

Rhonda Y. Williams, Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century (Routledge, 2014).

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