In the last year, our nation experienced great civil unrest which focused our collective consciousness on police violence and the ensuing protests shed light on the murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, among many other Black people. These deaths were unacceptable and avoidable, but they only represent a small portion of the myriad of state sanctioned police violence and brutality tactics used against black bodies. The definitions of police violence and brutality often focus on excessive use of force and harassment, but can also include wrongful search and seizure, racial discrimination, false arrest and wrongful imprisonment, sexual assault and abuse, and denial of medical care. Although black women are not killed at nearly the same rates by police as black men, once we recognize the full definition of police violence, we can see how black women also experience high rates of police violence disproportionate to their representation in society, especially when it comes to sexual assault and abuse.
Although the popular narrative highlights the plight of black men when interacting with the police, the long history of police violence against black women are often excluded from the conversation. Since the founding of this nation, black women have experienced higher levels of police violence as compared to other women. A report from the Washington Post found that although black women account for 13 percent of women in the U.S., they make up 20 percent of the women fatally shot by the police and 28 percent of unarmed killings. Viral videos of police using excessive force against black girls such as with Dajerria Becton who survived a violent arrest during a Texas pool party and Taylor Bracey who was knocked unconscious and body slammed by a school police officer show that like black boys, police violence against black girls happens too often and without just cause. Police sexual assault and abuse of black women is often swept under the rug as was the case with Daniel Holtzclaw who was eventually convicted of raping thirteen women while on duty and the death of Sandra Bland who died in custody while in a Texas jail and was originally arrested for failure to signal a lane change. Lastly, the story of Afro-Latinx trans woman Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco who died in police custody of an epileptic seizure after prison staff failed to conduct the appropriate health check-ins after two previous seizures depicts the violence of denial of medical care. This is not what justice looks like, and these stories fuel us at the YWCA to work even harder towards rooting out these injustices and advocating for police reform.
In the last 5 years, the African American Policy Forum has been shining a light on this issue by launching the #SAYHERNAME campaign which aims to lift the silence on cases of police violence against black women and center a gender-inclusive narrative in the Black Lives Matter movement. However, more needs to done in order to protect black women and advocate for resources to allow for healing. This is why the YWCA’s We Deserve Safety Report, annual Stand Against Racism efforts, and Until Justice Just Is campaign have been pushing for renewing the call to end criminalization of women and girls of color, documenting the racial profiling and police abuse to women of color, including police brutality in our analysis of racism as public health crisis, and providing resources to communities and organizations to root out injustice and systemic racism. To uplift and empower black women, it is essential for folks to join us in the fight dismantling the abusive power structures which keep black women from thriving. We know much more work needs to be done to eliminate racism and empower women in the black community, but by working to address police violence and brutality against black women we can diminish some of the most historically severe obstacles deterring black women and girls from blossoming into the fearless and empowered women they were meant to be and crafting a just future we can all be proud of.