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In Her Line of Fire: An Analysis of Female Police Brutality


I cant breathe
"I Can't Breathe" slogan for Black Lives Matter
Introduction 

Police brutality in the United States centers on Black men and boys, but it’s crucial to publicly discuss the brutality that Black women and girls face. While the lives of Black males' matter, we need to ensure that Black female lives equally matter too. The stories and experiences of Black female victims are not entirely like the ones of Black males, which is why their needs to be further discussion. Statistics and discussions on this topic are male-centered or gender neutral, which is making Black women’s experiences to become invisible[1]. Without a Black female perspective, police brutality in the media and in research will continue to exclusively focus on Black males.[2]  


The Unique Experience of Black Women and their Significance 

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Law professor, has explained that “black women face discrimination in ways that are unique from the discrimination that Black men or white women face”.[3] She has also further explained how discrimination against Black women results from both racism and sexism.[4] Black males and females experience police brutality similarly in the sense that they are both killed in similar situations and ways as one another. However, the difference with Black females is that they are killed in gender specific contexts, such as domestic violence.[5] Black women are less likely to be protected by police when they are abused, beaten or murdered by their partners or by their own community.[6] There is less demand in police accountability when they commit murder against Black women which is contributing to the invisibility of Black women's experiences.[7] In addition, the families of Black female victims are rarely ever invited to speak at rallies and do not receive the same level of support from the community as the families of Black male victims.[8]  Solely focusing on cisgender Black males when it comes to anti-Black violence, doesn’t allow us to fully understand the structural relationships between Black communities and the police.[9] It’s important to understand that isolated “fixes” aren’t effective and including Black females in the discussion of police brutality means that all Black lives matter.[10]


People protesting
People protesting for the Black Lives Matter Movement
America Has Failed Black Women 

In 2014, Gabriella Nevarez, Aura Rosser, Michelle Cusseaux, and Tanisha Anderson were victims of police killings.[11] However, these Black females were not widely recognized in the media compared to the police killings of Black males in that same year. Before the death of George Floyd in 2020, Breonna Taylor had been killed in her home in Louisville, Kentucky two months prior.[12] 60 days (about 2 months) after her death there were only eight articles in the media that mentioned her name.[13] 60 days (about 2 months) after George Floyd's death, there were 22,046 articles in the media.[14] Furthermore, the police officers that murdered George Floyd were immediately terminated and charged for their crimes, but in Breonna’s case it took months for one single officer to be indicted, charged, and terminated.[15] In addition, the Me Too Movement, which focuses on speaking out against sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape culture has failed to speak out on police violence against Black women.[16] The movement tends to focus more on white middle- and upper-class women.[17] 

 

The Over Policing and Under Policing of Black Women 

Although crimes and violence against Black females continue to be under policed, Black women are being overpoliced everyday for the way they look, speak, and behave. The constant policing of the Black community is due to the criminal justice system still being based off a white supremacist framework.[18] This system was made to purposely prevent Black liberation and to consistently instill fear of white power into the Black community.[19] When it comes to over policing the murders and violence done against Black women, it is non-existent. Stereotypes made against Black women and girls dehumanizes them and it also desensitizes the police from committing malicious acts of violence against these innocent females.[20] For example, the "Superhuman" or "Mammy" stereotype falsely glorifies the idea that all Black women can withstand inhumane conditions and are forced to endure such conditions until it kills them.[21] This stereotype is what caused Sheneque Proctor’s death when the police ignored her request to receive medical attention despite informing them that she felt ill during her arrest.[22] The police ignored her and refused even though she was in critical condition. The "Sapphire" or "Angry Black Woman" is another stereotype that justifies the idea that an angry black woman should be put down because it is "impossible to reason with her".[23] Black women and girls have all the right to feel angry for the injustices made against them, but even the act of speaking out for themselves is viewed to be "disruptive" or "unacceptable". This stereotype has taken the lives of Janisha Fonville, Meagan Hockaday, and Yvette Smith, to name a few. Black women and young girls are also victims of receiving excessive punishment and sometimes are charged with crimes that they never committed.[24] Excessive punishment forces Black women to believe that they should not report crimes to the police and it silences them from exercising their rights because it will only be used against them.[25] 


Protestors
Protesting for the victims of police killings
Conclusion 

The Say Her Name campaign created by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) aims to raise awareness for Black women and girls who are victims of police brutality and anti-Black violence in the United States.[26] Movements and campaigns such as the one created by the AAPF allow for the silenced voices of Black women to be projected. We must also understand the consequential effects that stereotypes about Black women take on their lives. Not only do Black women’s stories need to be heard, but the portrayal of Black women as stereotypes in the media must change. Speaking out for Black females who have been killed and abused by the police allows for the Black Lives Matter movement to be inclusive of all identities that belong within Black community, not just one. We must not give up or stop to #SayHerName.  

 

Endnotes


[1] Langley N, ‘#SEEHERNAME USING INTERSECTIONALITY and STORYTELLING to BRING VISIBILITY to BLACK WOMEN in EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION and POLICE BRUTALITY’ (2021) 14 DePaul Journal for Social Justice


[2] ibid.


[3] ibid.


[4] Joseph J, ‘Invisible Police Lethal Violence against Black Women in the United States: An Intersectional Approach’ (2022) 34 Peace Review 177


[5] Langley (n 1).


[6] ibid.


[7] ibid.


[8] ibid.


[9] ibid.


[10] ibid.


[11] ibid.


[12] Joseph (n 4).


[13] ibid.


[14] ibid.


[15] ibid.


[16] ibid.


[17] ibid.


[18] Lett C, ‘Black Women Victims of Police Brutality and the Silencing of Their Stories’ (2023) 30 UCLA Women’s Law Journal


[19] ibid.


[20] ibid.


[21] ibid.


[22] ibid.


[23] ibid.


[24] Avalos L, ‘The Under-Policing of Crimes against Black Women’ (2023) 73 L. Rev


[25] ibid.


[26] Martin J, ‘BREONNA TAYLOR: TRANSFORMING a HASHTAG into DEFUNDING the POLICE’ (2021) 111 THE JOURNAL OF CRIMINAL LAW & CRIMINOLOGY


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