Tags: #blacklivesmatter, #sayhername, kindra chapman, racism, rekia boyd, sandra bland
Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe
Like so many African American women, myself included, Sandra Bland’s death, resulting from police brutality is not new news. The national attention it’s receiving is, however.
The reality of unarmed African American women being beaten, profiled, sexually violated and murdered by law enforcement officials with alarming regularity is too often ignored – especially with the focus of police brutality on African American males.
And when gender identity and sexual orientation come into play, the treatment by police can be harsher. For example, my spouse, who would drive her new BMW (a vehicle cops believe is stolen if a black male is behind the wheel) to and from work, was stopped suspiciously too often for the classic case of “driving while black.” And when the Cambridge cops realized she’s a woman, and a lesbian one at that, their unbridled homophobia surfaced. My spouse now takes the bus or walks to work as much as she can due to the trauma from the constant shakedowns.
A new report and campaign called “Say Her Name” addresses the lack of reporting, documenting, and accounting for the violations and death of African American women and girls at the hand of law enforcement officials.
Just last July, Marlene Pinnock’s, 51, beating by California Highway Patrol officer Daniel Andrew was captured by a passing driver and spread widely on both internet and television. With Andrew straddling Pinnock on the ground and pummeling her with his fist, Pinnock told CBS News “He was trying to beat me to death….take my life away. For no reason. I did nothing to him.”
While it is not shocking news that African American women are arrested more often than white women in any given city across the country, what is shocking is the rate at which we are.
For example, a new report from the Center on Criminal and Juvenile Justice reveals that while African American women in San Francisco comprise of approximately 5.8 percent of the city’s female population, they make up 47 percent of female arrests. And these arrests too often result in death.
African American sisters like Rekia Boyd (March 2012, Chicago), Kimberlee Randle-King (September 2014, St. Louis), and Natasha McKenna (April 2015, Fairfax County, Virginia), to name just a few, are lives cut too short at the hands of law enforcement officials. While the country was reeling from the news of Bland’s death of July 13th, 18-year-old Kindra Chapman of Alabama was found dead in her jail cell following day.
Oddly, Randle-King’s, Bland’s and now Chapman’s death are all explained away as “self-inflicted asphyxiation,” a form of suicide extremely uncommon among African Americans given our not-to-distant relationship with this country’s history of lynching. And while African American women comprise the largest demographic group of females incarcerated, statistics reveal that black women committing suicide is the lowest of all groups, and hanging is not our method of choice.
The perceptions and stereotypes of African American women—combative, mouthy, not deferential enough and “angry black woman”—can sadly turn into deadly action as we see with Bland. Bland’s crime is what’s described as “contempt of cop.” She wasn’t obsequious or subservient enough when the officer asked her to extinguish her cigarette. And for something as minor as a traffic signal violation, the incident escalated out of control. But when the dominant culture doesn’t see and hear African-American voices about our pains, fears, vulnerabilities our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist and sexist stereotypes. So, too, is our suffering.
When Bland was found hanging from a noose made of plastic bags in her Waller County jail cell, the coroner’s report corroborated the claim stating there were no obvious signs of such a violent struggle. But like Bland’s family and friends, I, too, cry out foul play. And it’s because of Waller County’s long and boastful history for keeping blacks in their place, and lynching was the preferred method.
I posit that if Bland did not commit suicide then clearly it was a lynching—a reality in 2015 too harsh and hard to fathom, even in a remote and still racially segregated corner of Texas.
But Waller County, which is less than an hour north of Houston, was a county notorious for lynching, and old habits die hard, if they die at all. The Equal Justice Initiative states that African Americans were lynched disproportionately higher in Waller County than in any other county in the state between 1877 and 1950. The memories of family and friends lynched still lives on in the collective oral history of Waller County’s African American community. “In this county, they’ve been hanging and killing Negroes since the Civil War.” an old buddy of Bland’s, Holice Cook, told the Washington Post.
When Bland tweeted on April 8th “AT FIRST THEY USED A NOOSE, NOW ALL THEY DO IS SHOOT #BlackLivesMatter #SandySpeaks,” she, too, could not fathom such act.
But with the recent deaths of Randle-King’s, Chapman’s and Bland’s there’s a pattern evolving, one in which sadly we cannot conclusively hang up the thought of lynching for good.
Tags: #blacklivesmatter, black history month, eric garner, i can't breathe, michael brown, police body camera, tamir rice
Guest editorial by Kevin C. Peterson
Though it may sound counter-intuitive, this Black History Month is an occasion to reflect on the necessity of arming the police with body cameras.
As recent history has painfully taught us, there is an urgent need to dispel all ambiguity surrounding the murder of black males by local law enforcement. Police body cameras are not a panacea for this problem, but they may help.
The ostensible lessons gleaned last year from the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are that their deaths were more than separate, unrelated incidents.
Their deaths are apart of a historical pattern, which citizens within black communities have for decades called systemic “police brutality.” Their murders illustrate the truism that a protracted season of disregard for black life continues and that “death-by-cop” is too often a testament of the longstanding tension and racial resentment between white police officers and black males–especially young African-American males in the inner cities.
Racial animosity will take a longtime to dissipate in America, but for now practical responses and new policies are needed on how the police engage black men.
This is why Segun Iduwo wants his day in Boston court–and, if necessary, he’ll gladly take jail time.
The Mattapan minister was arrested last November during a rally outside the Suffolk County jail in Roxbury. He and hundreds were protesting the historical plight of black men as part the national reaction sparked by the Ferguson, MO grand jury decision to not indict a police officer in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Iduwo says he was standing silently at the “Black Lives Matter” protest when he was “singled out” by state police and arrested.
“They just came directly to me and handcuffed me. As far as I know they didn’t arrest anybody else.”
Still in his early 20s, Idowu, who is black, possesses a strong sense of history and a clear understanding of how civil disobedience, civic engagement and direct protest action can accelerate change. A product of the Boston Latin Academy, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. He has also attended, until recently, Boston University’s School of Theology.
Iduwo acknowledges he was arrested on charges of “disorderly conduct,” for protesting “the wrongs done to black men” and says he is willing to answer to the charges.
In the meantime, he has been pressing Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner Williams Evans to equip each Boston police officer with a body camera, believing they will deter police misconduct. Along with Shekia Scott, Iduwo co-founded the Boston Police Camera Action Team last August.
A 2014 ACLU study reported the Boston police department’s practice of “stop-and frisk” disproportionately impacts young black males. Some have argued that “stop-and-frisk” is a harassment tool. So, keeping a police video record of those encounters makes sense and may save lives.
Legislation was recently filed by Boston City Councillor Charles Yancey to equip police officers with body cameras. Yancey said the cameras will “protect” patrol officers as much they will document how citizens interact with the police.
Late last year President Barack Obama wisely dedicated 75 million in grants for local police departments to purchase body camera equipment. Boston has yet to apply for funding.
“Not only do we want body cameras on officers but we also understand that policy must go with it … We call ourselves the cradle of democracy and we are the most progressive city in the nation. So if we are going to be progressive, then we ought to be one of the first major city all of its police officers uniformed with body cameras.”
Sometimes history is the result of winning small, mundane battles that most never notice. Often black historical advances were won on the local level–in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida’s smallest hamlets–where change was seemingly unconnected to larger, unfolding events.
Iduwo is a fresh voice who deserves attention for his principled stance and wiliness to go to jail.
He is also one of Boston’s youthful examples of how black history can be engaged by anyone at anytime if the moral intentions are right and if the price for advancement is willing to be paid.
The views expressed are those of the author.