Apr 03 2012

They Shoot Black Girls Too, Don’t They?


This post is going to be pretty disjointed as I am still trying to formulate my ideas…

I have been in and out of town for the past ten days but have still been hooked to social media intravenously. So I found out via Facebook last week that an unarmed young black woman named Rekia Boyd was shot by an off-duty police officer on the West side of Chicago and subsequently died. The officer claims that another person in her group pulled a gun out and aimed it at him. There was no gun found at the scene however except for the one that the officer used to fire at and (unintentionally) kill Rekia who just happened to be standing with the group. Below is a video that describes the incident.

Today is Rekia Boyd’s funeral. May she rest in power.

In the past few weeks, a number of examples of unarmed people being gunned down by police have come to public attention. The truth is however that there is nothing new about police violence in America. I am currently living, breathing, and reading about the history of policing, violence and resistance as I prepare to release a set of resources that I have been working on for the past year. My work on this project has led me to think quite a bit about how I have personally framed the issue of police violence over the past few years.

I become incredibly exorcised about incidents of stop and frisk, police shootings, and other forms of violence when the targets are young men of color and in particular young black men. As I interrogate the reasons for this, I think that perhaps it is because I have brothers, cousins, nephews, and friends who are black and male. Could it be that simple? The answer has to be “no” because I also have sisters, cousins, nieces, and friends who are black and female but I don’t find myself getting as outraged over their senseless killing and assaults at the hands of law enforcement. Why is this? Is it the result of internalized sexism? Do I think that young women’s lives are less valuable than young men’s? How could that be when I have spent a lifetime fighting for the right of girls and young women to live lives free from violence?

I seem to be a bundle of contradictions on this matter. I know that by virtue of living in this society I am swimming in the waters of sexism and have therefore internalized it. Yet I am also living in a society that is racist too. But I still feel a visceral sense of loss and dread when I hear about another young black man gunned down by the cops. Is it because the numbers are unbalanced? It is true that young men of color do more often find themselves targeted by police in the streets than do young women of color. However that doesn’t explain the depth of the feelings of pain that I experience when I hear that another young black man has been shot or assaulted or killed.

So I am left to attribute my asymetrical response to the killing of Amadou Diallo and the killing of Rekia Boyd to the sad fact that I have indeed internalized the belief that my life is perhaps less valuable than that of my brother. Somehow his survival has come to mean more to me than my own. I partly blame this on the fact that most of the images of public violence that I have been and am bombarded with on a daily basis are distinctly male. When I watch movies about war, the people who are dying on the battlefields are men. When I see photographs of lynchings, those bodies are also male. When I notice incidents of police violence in the media, the victims are overwhelmingly men (and so are the killers). Public violence is male while private violence is colored female. The rampant street harassment that young women are subjected to which is in fact a form of public violence is almost always made invisible by calling it “flirting.” Young women who are raped, abused, etc… are most often harmed in “private” spaces away from the glare of the spotlight. And we are harmed by the millions in this way. I feel this “private” harm in a visceral way yet in terms of the public violence that girls/young women experience, my emotions are duller.

I am not proud of this admission. It proves how much work I still have to do to overcome my internalized sexism. I wonder if others have thoughts about this…

  • By Iyeisha Witherspoon, April 13, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

    I have thought about that not only do brothers not value the racial and gender experience of Black girls/women but so do sisters. It deeply bothers me that we have defined racism according to the experience of males as if to say only Black men suffer racism or suffer a harsher form. It’s sad that Rakia’s death won’t get the media attention that it would have I’d she were male. But she isn’t the only woman killed by police who went unnoticed. As do the rapes and physical mistreatment of young women by law enforcement and others. Women and children were lynched too but their lives didn’t make the pages of most history books. It is up to the gender consciousness person to give voice to the Black woman’s experience and to raise up the value of our girls.

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