Punishment and Profiling Against Women of Color

What names come to mind when you think of victims of police brutality? Do you think of Rodney King, a Black man who was violently beaten by LAPD officers in 1991?[1] Or do you think of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old young Black man who in 2012 was shot and killed by a police officer in Florida?[2] What about Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Black man who was placed in an illegal chokehold and killed by a white police officer in 2014?[3] Do you remember Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy who was shot by police officers in a park when they thought his toy gun was real?[4] Whoever came to your mind, it probably wasn’t a woman.

 

Picture1However, women of color are also victims of police brutality. Atatiana Jefferson was killed on October 12, 2019, by a white police officer in Fort Worth, Texas while she was in her own home. A concerned neighbor had called the police late at night when they noticed that her home’s exterior doors were left open. Two police officers arrived at Atatiana’s home, snuck around the back of her house, and yelled “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!”[5] a brief second before shooting her through her back window and killing her. She was playing video games with her nephew.[6]

 

Atatiana’s story is just one of the many stories of police brutality against women of color. There was Charleena Lyles[7], Shukri Ali[8], Deborah Danner[9], Rekia Boyd[10], Mya Hall[11], Miriam Carey[12], seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones[13], and more. Although a woman’s risk of being killed by a police officer is roughly 20 times lower than a man’s risk is[14], women still are victims of police brutality. Twenty-six women of color were killed by police in 2019.[15] Why don’t the stories of these women make national news headlines along with their Black brothers? Why are women of color invisible in the current movement against police brutality?

 

Picture2We can start by recognizing that violence against Black women is something that has been ignored for centuries. In the United States, Black women have been treated badly since the beginning of the country, when they were brought over as slaves. In fact, slavery depended in large part on the control of Black women’s bodies. Harriet Jacobs, born a slave herself, wrote in her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, “Slavery is terrible for men, but it is far more terrible for women.” Harriet Jacobs refers to the sexual abuse that Black female slaves endured. Female slaves were raped (often by the slave owners themselves) so that they could have children, which became the property of the slave owner, therefore increasing the slave owner’s wealth. The rape of a slave woman was not considered illegal.[16]

 

After slavery ended, the violence against former slaves, including Black women, continued. They continued to be raped by white men as a show of dominance, and they were lynched alongside Black men. Between the years 1880 and 1930, at least 130 Black women were murdered by lynch mobs.[17] One of them was Mary Turner, who spoke out about the lynching of her husband, and then was lynched and murdered herself when she was 8 months pregnant.[18] Laura Nelson, who shot a sheriff while trying to protect her son, was lynched alongside her 14-year-old son soon after; right before she was hung, she was gang-raped by several white men.[19] Ida B. Wells, a Black woman and journalist in the 19th century, became an activist against lynching. She famously said, “What becomes a crime deserving capital punishment when the tables are turned is a matter of small moment when the negro woman is the accusing party,” meaning that white men still were raping Black women, but no one punished them for doing so even though they killed Black men for the same crime (although Ida B. Wells also found that only 30% of Black men who were lynched were even accused of raping a white woman).[20]

 

 

Picture3

Having taken a brief look at the history of the violence against Black women, we can more clearly see how women of color are affected by violence today. Andrea Ritchie, who attended Cornell University and Howard University School of Law, talks about violence against women of color in her book, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color. Part of the reason Ritchie found that women are invisible from this movement is how we think of police violence. If we think of police violence only as police shootings, then we will only see the violence against Black men. Black women are 1.4 times more likely to be killed by police than white women[21], but Black men are 2.5 times as likely to be killed by police than white men.[22] So is there more to the story?

 

Well, as we can also see from the history of violence on Black women, Andrea Ritchie shows that a huge part of police brutality against Black women is sexual violence. In fact, sexual misconduct is the second most frequently reported form of police misconduct.[23] Another statistic reports that a police officer is caught in the act of sexual misconduct every five days.[24] Between 2005 and 2013, 636 police officers were arrested for forcible fondling, 405 police officers were arrested for rape, and 219 were arrested for forcible sodomy, of which 50% of the victims were less than 18 years old.[25]Two in five young women of color in New York City report sexual harassment by police officers.[26]

 

Daniel Holtzclaw is a police officer from Oklahoma who sexually assaulted at least 13 women while on duty before he was arrested. Holtzclaw targeted Black women in poor communities in the area he was patrolling, and he did so because he believed they would be less likely to report to the police about the sexual assault.[27] One of the women he assaulted had been drinking when he pulled her over. He asked her to get out of the car and pull her pants down to search for drugs. Later, he took her to the back seat of the police car and raped her.[28] Her experience is similar to the 12 other women who testified against Daniel Holtzclaw, and to many women of color throughout the United States.

 

Picture4Women of color experience sexual harassment from police officers within the war on drugs as well. When combating the war on drugs, police officers can use strip searches, which is making someone remove all their clothes to make sure that a person does not have any drugs or other concealed items on their body. Black, Asian-American, and Hispanic women are almost 3 times as likely as men of the same race to be subject to strip searches.[29] Police officers can even get a warrant to search a woman’s vagina for drugs.[30] Additionally, many women are killed in drug raids by police.

 

Police officers stopped Frankie Perkins, a Black woman, as she was walking home and accused her of swallowing drugs. In the drug search, the police officers choked Frankie to death, and no drugs were found.[31] In 2003, the house of Lori Penner, a Native American woman, was raided by police in search of drugs. No drugs were found, but they grabbed her 15-year-old daughter from the shower and made her stand naked in front of them; then the police officers watched her as she got dressed. Lori testified, “One police officer had the audacity to tell my daughter she cleaned up nice and looks good for a 15-year-old girl.”[32]

 

Sexual assault by police officers isn’t the only way sex affects police brutality among women of color. In many cities, police can arrest someone who is loitering for the purpose of prostitution.[33] Women of color and trans people are over-sexualized in society as a whole and are stopped and arrested at higher rates because police assume that they are selling sex.[34] If these women have condoms in their possession, it can be used as evidence to prove that they were going to engage in prostitution.[35]

 

Picture5In a 2017 research report about policing prostitution, researchers collected data from 1,413 people charged with prostitution-related offenses who were clients of the Legal Aid Society in New York City. The report found that the clients were overwhelmingly women of color: 98% of the clients identified as women, 34% identified as Black, 32% identified as Asian (mostly Korean or Chinese), 17% identified as Hispanic, and only 11% identified as white.[36] This shows that a little less than 90% of people who were arrested for prostitution, loitering for purposes of prostitution, or unlicensed massage were women of color. This statistic is similar to the data for “stop and frisk” policing, which is a law enforcement strategy that “lets police officers detain, question and sometimes search individuals who they suspect of being involved in criminal activity” (which a judge deemed as unconstitutional in 2013).[37] In New York City in 2019, about 90 percent of police stops involved people of color.[38] Of those stops, 65 percent did not result in an arrest or summons.[39] In addition, Black women are more likely than Black men to be arrested during a traffic or street stop[40], and prostitution-related assumptions could play into this statistic.

 

Picture6With the #BlackLivesMatter movement, more people have become aware of the violence Black men face at the hands of the police. In addition, we need to include Black women’s needs in our discourse on modern police brutality and make sure to involve women in our pursuit to find a solution to end this violence. Black women are stopped by police almost as often as Black men and suffer sexual violence and even death at the hands of the police. In this blog post, we mostly focused on police brutality with Black women, but police brutality against women also unfairly targets Hispanic women, Asian-American women, Native American women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

 

It is important to sit with the truths presented in this blog post and allow ourselves to feel the emotions that these stories evoke within us. Empathy is one of the driving forces that help us bring about change. And we can also recognize that in spite of these harsh realities, there are beacons of hope. The Legal Aid Society[41] is a non-profit organization that provides legal representation to people who have been arrested for prostitution-related charges in New York City, and there are similar nonprofits across the country. Andrea Ritchie is one of the leading activists in raising awareness about police brutality against women, and her academic research is presented in her book, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color,[42] which provides a more in-depth look into police violence.

 

Ritchie also wrote a blog post in 2016 with 7 policy paths to stop police violence against Black girls and women, which you can find here:

https://fundersforjustice.org/as-we-sayhername-7-policy-paths-to-stop-police-violence-against-black-girls-and-women/.

These steps include banning the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses, banning body cavity searches at traffic stops (in public), collecting national data about police sexual violence, and more. You can get involved in the #SayHerName activist movement by visiting their website (https://aapf.org/shn-campaign) and become a volunteer, activist for policy reform, activist through artwork, and/or you can donate to their movement.

 

As you start your advocacy for ending police violence against women of color, I hope you can remember the words by 11-year-old Naomi Wadler at her March For Our Lives speech. “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper. Whose stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence. Who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls and full of potential… I urge everyone here and everyone who hears my voice to join me in telling the stories that aren’t told. To honor the girls, the women of color, who are murdered at disproportionate rates in this nation. I urge each of you to help me write the narrative for this world and understand, so that these girls and women are never forgotten.”[43]

 

Picture7

 

– C.M.

 

Image Sources:

[1] https://rewire.news/article/2017/08/03/paradox-black-women-police-violence-qa-andrea-ritchie/

[2] https://www.britannica.com/topic/slavery-sociology

[3] https://time.com/4508748/victims-as-criminals/

[4] https://aapf.org/shn-moms-network

[5] https://thelightnc.com/9542236/police-footage-shows-aggressive-arrest-of-pregnant-woman/

[6] https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-transgender-history-in-stonewall-20190616-adrh2w6xnnbztciwkvpp7nwocm-story.html

[7] https://www.facebook.com/amypoehlersmartgirls/photos/a.10152125342159338/10157144639129338/?type=3&theater

 

Sources:

[1] Sastry, Anjuli, and Karen Grigsby Bates. “When LA Erupted In Anger: A Look Back At The Rodney King Riots.” NPR, NPR, 26 Apr. 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/04/26/524744989/when-la-erupted-in-anger-a-look-back-at-the-rodney-king-riots.

[2] Ramaswamy, Chitra. “Trayvon Martin’s Parents, Five Years on: ‘Racism Is Alive and Well in America’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 Feb. 2017, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/13/trayvon-martin-parents-racism-alive-and-well-in-america.

[3] Baker, Al, et al. “Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 June 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/14/nyregion/eric-garner-police-chokehold-staten-island.html.

[4] Dewan, Shaila, and Richard A. Oppel. “In Tamir Rice Case, Many Errors by Cleveland Police, Then a Fatal One.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Jan. 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/us/in-tamir-rice-shooting-in-cleveland-many-errors-by-police-then-a-fatal-one.html.

[5] WFAA, director. RAW: Fort Worth Police Release Body Cam after Officers Shoot Woman in Her Home. YouTube, 12 Oct. 2019, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpcV0ODTy0Y.

[6] Alonso, Melissa, and Christina Maxouris. “Former Officer Indicted in Atatiana Jefferson’s Shooting Death.” CNN, Cable News Network, 21 Dec. 2019, http://www.cnn.com/2019/12/20/us/atatiana-jefferson-death-officer-indicted/index.html.

[7] Murphy, Patricia. “A Family Celebrates Charleena Lyles’ Memory, but Waits for Healing.” KUOW, 25 Oct. 2018, http://www.kuow.org/stories/family-celebrates-charleena-lyles-memory-waits-healing.

[8] Poole, Shelia M. “Who Was Shukri Ali Said? How Did She End up Dead at Hands of Police?” Ajc, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 26 July 2018, http://www.ajc.com/news/crime–law/who-was-shukri-ali-said-how-did-she-end-dead-hands-police/x7DjMMkK36FMdZITUxHxQP/.

[9] Silva, Chantal Da, et al. “Deborah Danner Is One of Many Who Did Not Have to Die, Black Lives Matter Says.” Newsweek, 13 July 2018, http://www.newsweek.com/black-lives-matter-deborah-danner-one-many-who-did-not-have-die-1009807.

[10] Momodu, Samuel. “Rekia Boyd (1989-2012) •.” BLACKPAST, 22 Jan. 2019, http://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/boyd-rekia-1989-2012/.

[11] Romano, Aja. “Black Women on Social Media Urge Baltimore to Remember Mya Hall.” The Daily Dot, The Daily Dot, 8 Mar. 2017, http://www.dailydot.com/irl/transgender-sex-worker-mya-hall-death-nsa/.

[12] Chappell, Bill. “Family Questions Shooting Death Of Woman At U.S. Capitol.” NPR, NPR, 5 Oct. 2013, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/10/05/229480049/family-questions-shooting-death-of-woman-at-u-s-capitol

[13] “7-Year-Old Girl Accidentally Shot by SWAT Team.” American Civil Liberties Union, http://www.aclu.org/other/7-year-old-girl-accidentally-shot-swat-team.

[14] Kahn, Amina. “Getting Killed by Police Is a Leading Cause of Death for Young Black Men in America.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 16 Aug. 2019, http://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-08-15/police-shootings-are-a-leading-cause-of-death-for-black-men.

[15] Statista Research Department. “People Shot to Death by U.S. Police, by Gender 2019.” Statista, 3 Jan. 2020, http://www.statista.com/statistics/585149/people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-by-gender/.

[16] “The Invention of Race.” Race in America, by Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2020, pp. 62–65.

[17] Feimster, Crystal N. “Ida B. Wells and the Lynching of Black Women.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Apr. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/28/opinion/sunday/ida-b-wells-lynching-black-women.html.

[18] Simien, Evelyn M. “Lynching Memorial Shows Women Were Victims, Too.” The Conversation, 13 Jan. 2020, theconversation.com/lynching-memorial-shows-women-were-victims-too-95029.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Feimster, Crystal N. “Ida B. Wells and the Lynching of Black Women.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Apr. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/28/opinion/sunday/ida-b-wells-lynching-black-women.html.

[21] Kahn, Amina. “Getting Killed by Police Is a Leading Cause of Death for Young Black Men in America.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 16 Aug. 2019, http://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-08-15/police-shootings-are-a-leading-cause-of-death-for-black-men.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Corley, Cheryl, and Andrea J Ritchie. “’Invisible No More’ Examines Police Violence Against Minority Women.” ‘Invisible No More’ Examines Police Violence Against Minority Women, Npr, 5 Nov. 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/11/05/561931899/invisible-no-more-examines-police-violence-against-minority-women.

[24] Ibid.

[25] McLaughlin, Eliott C. “Police Officers in the US Were Charged with More than 400 Rapes over a 9-Year Period.” CNN, Cable News Network, 19 Oct. 2018, http://www.cnn.com/2018/10/19/us/police-sexual-assaults-maryland-scope/index.html.

[26] Ritchie, Adrienne J. “Invisible No More: Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Women and LGBTQ People of Color.” May 2016, New York City, Barnard College.

[27] Testa, Jessica. “The 13 Women Who Accused A Cop Of Sexual Assault, In Their Own Words.” BuzzFeed News, BuzzFeed News, 11 Dec. 2015, http://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jtes/daniel-holtzclaw-women-in-their-ow.

[28] Testa, Jessica. “The 13 Women Who Accused A Cop Of Sexual Assault, In Their Own Words.” BuzzFeed News, BuzzFeed News, 11 Dec. 2015, http://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jtes/daniel-holtzclaw-women-in-their-ow.

[29] Ritchie, Andrea J. “A Warrant to Search Your Vagina.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 July 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/opinion/sunday/black-women-police-brutality.html?smid=tw-share.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Indian Country Today. “Amnesty International Hears Testimony on Racial Profiling.” Maven, Indian Country Today, 16 Oct. 2003, newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/archive/amnesty-international-hears-testimony-on-racial-profiling-aBt4obgk3UyIyZo_A57OwQ.

[33] Beery, Zoë. “Transgender New Yorkers Rally To End ‘Stop And Frisk For Trans Women’.” Gothamist, Gothamist, 20 Nov. 2019, gothamist.com/news/transgender-new-yorkers-rally-end-stop-and-frisk-trans-women.

[34] Dank, Meredith, et al. Consequences of Policing Prostitution: An Analysis of Individuals Arrested and Prosecuted for Commercial Sex in New York City. Urban Institute, 2017, pp. 6–8, https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/89451/legal_aid_final_0.pdf.

[35] Ritchie, Adrienne J. “Invisible No More: Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Women and LGBTQ People of Color.” May 2016, New York City, Barnard College.

[36] Dank, Meredith, et al. Consequences of Policing Prostitution: An Analysis of Individuals Arrested and Prosecuted for Commercial Sex in New York City. Urban Institute, 2017, pp. 6–8, https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/89451/legal_aid_final_0.pdf.

[37] Merlino, Victoria. “Stop-and-Frisk Increased by 32 Percent in Queens Last Year.” Queens Daily Eagle, Queens Daily Eagle, 11 Feb. 2020, queenseagle.com/all/2020/2/11/stop-and-frisk-increased-by-32-percent-in-queens-last-year.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Prison Policy Initiative. “Policing Women: Race and Gender Disparities in Police Stops, Searches, and Use of Force.” Prison Policy Initiative, 14 May 2019, http://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2019/05/14/policingwomen/.

[41] www.legalaidnyc.org

[42] https://www.amazon.com/Invisible-No-More-Violence-Against/dp/0807088986

[43] https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL4B448958847DA6FB&time_continue=2&v=ybsNHFGcb_4&feature=emb_logo

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