"I’ve noticed a common theme among the few protests I’ve reported on the last couple of days. They’ve solely been in honor of George Floyd. The latest protest I attended took place in the Point Place neighborhood of Toledo, Ohio. The predominantly white community marched along a busy street to protest the unjust killing of Floyd by Minneapolis police. Demonstrators walked up and down with their signs in hand shouting, “I can’t breathe” and “No justice! No peace!”
The march lasted about two hours, but it hit me about 20 minutes in that not a single chant had been created to honor the life of Breonna Taylor. In fact, it wasn’t until the tail end of the protest that her name was ever mentioned, and at that point there was no enraged chant to commemorate her last words on earth like there had been for Floyd.Other demonstrations across the country have made a point of making space to recognize Taylor, an EMT who was fatally shot by police while sleeping in her own home. Cate Young, a Black film and culture critic, set up a virtual memorial for Taylor’s birthday; photos of her have proliferated at marches in her honor in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. But the protests I witnessed were representative of how the deaths of Black women at the hands of police are treated as nothing more than an afterthought. They’re only acknowledged when in some way tied to the death of a Black man, even if the string that loosely connects them is the timing of their deaths.When Black men are killed by the police, it feels as though the world is flipped upside down. People get angry. They organize seemingly fast. They hit the pavement to protest and march, and all of our timelines are filled with petitions to sign. This same energy is rarely given to a Black woman when she is killed. There might be a petition or two to sign, or even a GoFundMe to donate to, but where is the outrage that gets precincts burned down?
Since Floyd’s death, there have been uprisings around the country. There’s also been an influx of people using hashtags like #SayHisName and #SayTheirNames to remember the names of other male victims of police violence. While everyone deserves to be honored and remembered, especially when they are being murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect us, it should be noted that such hashtags muddle the very reasoning behind the creation of the #SayHerName.Conceived in 2014 by the African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, the #SayHerName hashtag was meant to amplify the names and narratives of Black women and girls who have also been the victims of police killings; people simply couldn’t name them the way they can name Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, or Freddie Gray.
Though it may be difficult to name even five Black women killed by the police, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening at the same urgency as Black men. Black women are losing their lives, and for some reason it just doesn’t garner the same warranted level of community concern or outcry.The most hypervisible — and often only acknowledged — woman in t
he police violence conversation is Sandra Bland. The 28-year-old Black woman was found hanging in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas, in 2015. Though her death was ruled a suicide, protests broke out in multiple cities around the country after video circulated of her aggressive arrest during a routine traffic stop. This was the first time I had ever seen the #SayHerName used, and honestly I was relieved. It finally felt like for the first time the lives of Black women mattered. Unfortunately, this would be the only time I would feel this way.
Though Bland’s death sparked anger in people, it still feels like hers is the lone Black woman’s name people can remember, though she is nowhere near close to the only name that deserves remembrance.
It’s been 10 years since seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed in her sleep by Detroit police. Officer Joseph Weekley fatally shot the young girl in what he claimed was an alleged struggle with Jones’s grandmother, Mertilla Jones, though she says she had just reached over to protect the child and made no contact with police. Weekley was tried twice, and the case against him was eventually dismissed. As of April 2015, he returned to work as a cop.
I myself recently learned about Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old woman killed by an off-duty Chicago police detective in 2012. What led to Boyd’s death is still unclear eight years later. I first learned of her story in Mikki Kendall’s book Hood Feminism. Kendall wrote about how Boyd was standing next to her boyfriend when detective Dante Servin mistook the boyfriend’s cellphone for a gun, shot at him, hitting his hand and killing Boyd, who was standing behind him. As a result, this woman is no longer walking this earth, no longer able to hug her mother, and still no one has served an hour in jail.
On October 12, 2019, Atatiana Jefferson was shot in her home by police in Fort Worth, Texas. The cops were responding to a nonemergency call made by one of Jefferson’s neighbors.