author – activist – faculty – mom
All across the US yesterday, people–particularly black women–sought to expand the national conversation about police violence to include the reality that black women are not only grieving mothers, daughters and partners of black men slain by police, but we are directly targeted. A critical paper by The African American Policy Forum was released on Wednesday: “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women.” Although women are not targeted as often as men, the statistics clearly show that within the gender categories, black women are targeted in the same disproportionate numbers as black men. This day of action is critical in fighting the erasure of black women’s stories. According to the report’s introduction:
We have emphasized that Black women and women of color’s experiences of racial profiling and police brutality are not aberrations or distractions from the central conversation, which features cisgender, heterosexual Black men and men of color as the prime protagonists, but rather are central to our understanding of the impacts of policing on our communities, and to the solutions we pursue.
Last week, I was driving across Massachusetts on a multi-lane freeway. I pulled over to offer comfort when my kid was upset. With a crying five-year-old on my lap, I was startled to hear a tap on my window. A white cop was asking if everything was okay. It was an appropriate action. I had my hazards on (to make sure no one hit me) and I might have needed help. But the terror I felt in my chest, the concern that somehow it wouldn’t go well for me, was visceral and immediate. As it turned out, the cop was friendly and respectful. But it isn’t always that way.
Black women are often scared to ask police for help. And in many ways we should be. In 2013, in my own hometown of Berkeley, police killed a black woman who called asking for help. Not Ferguson. Not Baltimore. Not Ohio, but Berkeley. Home of the Free Speech Movement and widely seen as a bastion of liberalism. She grew up here in Berkeley, just like me. We probably went to the same high school, but didn’t overlap years.
I read about her in a piece by Nomy Lamm on the website TheBodyIsNotAnApology. Kayla Moore was a black disabled trans woman. She worked as a phone sex operator. She had a mental health diagnosis and was having a hard time. The following is from Lamm’s article:
The night she died, Kayla’s roommate and in-home caregiver were there. They could tell she wasn’t taking her medication, and they called 9-1-1 to have someone come do an evaluation. This had happened before. She would go to the hospital and get stabilized; she would be there a couple weeks and come out. That’s what they expected that night.
When the police came, they didn’t talk to Kayla. Instead, they ran warrant checks. They arrested her roommate, and then told Kayla they were going to take her in, too. But she knew that wasn’t right, that it wasn’t for her. The warrant they had found was for somebody with the same birth name but a different birth date. She turned around to make a phone call, and they grabbed her. A struggle ensued, and they fell backwards into the apartment, onto a futon. Six officers were on top of her. She was on her stomach, and they were trying to tie her down. They got the cuffs on her and were trying to put a hood on her head, but after two minutes they realized she wasn’t breathing. They did chest compressions, but not mouth-to-mouth. When the EMTs came, she was dead.
The police initially blamed her obesity. But the only excess flesh that led to her death was the weight of six officers crushing the breath out of her. Her body wasn’t wrong, wasn’t culpable. Police violence was. The police were willing to touch her with deadly force but not willing to use their CPR skills to save her life?
Black lives matter.
Black women’s lives matter.
The lives of fat black disabled trans women in the sex industries matter.
Kayla Moore matters.