I Won’t #TakeaKnee Until the Movement Against Police Brutality Centers Women of Color

Editor’s note: TW for domestic violence.

I’ve been hesitant to #TakeaKnee.

I am of course always inspired and energized by new advocates joining the movement for the first time. We all started somewhere. We are all on a journey. Our political analysis evolves over time with exposure, experience, and community accountability. I am grateful to Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee and for being outspoken about white supremacy and state violence. And I am grateful that NFL players are kneeling in solidarity.

But I’m tired of gendered violence taking a back seat.

Amid the headlines and national outrage this weekend, people seem to have forgotten — or conveniently erased — the experiences of Black women and women of color as victims and survivors of state violence. Because yes, state violence affects women of color, too. Today, Paris Knox is in court in Chicago, appealing her 40-year sentence for defending herself against her partner when he showed up at her home.

Police brutality doesn’t necessarily manifest the same way for women and femmes of color as it does for men. In many cases, women’s experiences with state violence are tied to their experiences with domestic violence. Fifty percent of women’s homicides are by a partner, and Black women have the highest intimate partner homicide rates. And yet in the cases when Black women fight to survive, they often face incarceration, perceived as having no selves to defend like Paris Knox and Bresha Meadows. Women are even held accountable for the violence of their abusers with “failure to protect” laws. In 2014, a Buzzfeed News investigation found 73 cases of mothers who were sentenced to 10 or more years in prison between 2004 and 2014; 38% of these mothers were domestic violence survivors. Just last year, Danielle Whyte was charged with manslaughter when her boyfriend strangled her infant son to death and then threatened to kill her if she called police.

With state violence against women of color so frequently tied to our experiences with domestic violence, it is difficult for me, as a woman of color and as a domestic violence survivor once jailed for self-defense, to kneel with NFL players, many of whom have been accused of domestic violence or sexual assault.

And the NFL’s gendered violence problem is surpassed still by law enforcement officers. Between 24 and 40 percent of police officer families have experienced domestic violence, up to four times as a high as the rate of the general population. Police sexual assault is also the second most common form of police brutality, with a police officer caught in an act of sexual misconduct every five days, and this data doesn’t include the officers who never got caught. It also doesn’t include most incidents of police sexually assaulting sex workers, which in some states police assert is their right.

Too frequently, these narratives are missing from the larger conversation about police brutality, an omission that Andrea Ritchie works to highlight in her new book Invisible No More.

For women of color to be included, state violence and gendered violence must be tackled simultaneously.

When I think about the divisions in this movement, I also think about my own experience in an abusive relationship: how shocked I was when he hit me. It was surreal to me that this betrayal would come from someone so close to me — my own partner who I loved and shared a home with. I saw the barriers he was facing to becoming sober and nonviolent, and I was invested in his progress: I believed that his success was my success was our success. He always made me believe that he was fighting for me, for us. I believed that we were in that fight together.

I spent years focusing on his needs, believing that if we could solve the problems that he was facing then eventually that work would pay off and end his violence against me. But instead it kept getting worse, as abusive relationships often do. The violence escalated, and I could have lost my life in that relationship.

Too often, anti-violence movements feel like abusive relationships themselves. Black women and women of color are consistently asked and expected to fall in line. We are told that we must prioritize the needs of Black men in the movement against state violence and the needs of white women in the movement against gendered violence. We are shamed, silenced, and gaslighted when we ask if our needs will also be addressed and included in this fight. We are called “divisive” for asking to be included.

I’m hesitant to put my life on the line again for men who tell me that we’re in this fight toward liberation together when we’re not.

It should not take away from your needs to also acknowledge my needs. If you can’t say that my needs are just as important as yours, if you don’t speak out against gendered state violence, if you believe that somehow seeing and speaking up about my needs takes away from your cause or your movement, then you’ve already thrown me under the bus to drive forward without me.

And I’m tired of fighting for men who aren’t fighting for me.

If you believe that this message is divisive, that it takes away somehow from the masses who connected to Kaepernick, remember that you are dividing two issues and two movements that for me are completely intertwined.

Image credit: loveandprotect.org

Remember DC’s Historic Roundtable on Street Harassment? What’s Next.

It’s been over a year since DC’s historic roundtable on street harassment when more than 40 diverse community members spoke out about their experiences with harassment in public spaces — on the street, in bars, on public transit, and in local shelters.

  

Since then, we’ve had an impactful year of growth in our programming with the re-launch of Safe Bars, which trained staff at 27 local bars in bystander intervention strategies, and a new phase of our awareness campaign on public transit with WMATA that feature our city’s most marginalized identities and encourage bystanders to speak out against harassment.

But what’s happening on a citywide level?

This winter, CASS convened the End Street Harassment Coalition, which will work to pass the Street Harassment Prevention Act, introduced by CM Nadeau. The bill will collect data on street harassment and make recommendations to curb this most pervasive form of violence. If passed, the bill will ensure that all government employees are trained to recognize and respond to harassment.

The original iteration of the bill defined street harassment as unwanted comments, gestures, or actions targeting someone because of their real or perceived gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation. But the past year’s local high-profile incidents of harassment at Shaw Library and Banneker Pool, and especially the fall’s spike in incidents of harassment on the basis of real or perceived racial, ethnic, and/or religious identity demonstrated that we must broaden the definition of street harassment, collect appropriate data to assess the ways that different communities experience harassment, and recommend holistic solutions to prevent harassment from escalating to more severe violence.

The End Street Harassment Coalition, a group of about 20 local organizations, will work to form DC’s task force on street harassment in 2017, and we need your help.

Sign up here to testify in support of the bill. And tell your Council members that with this year’s 62% increase in hate violence across the DC area, we need community-based solutions to address harassment now.

Want to join the Coalition? Email sarah@collectiveactiondc.org!

Boosting Our Capacity and Embracing New Directions

If you hadn’t noticed yet, CASS jumped full speed into a new direction last year, centering the experiences of queer and trans people of color and finding ways to ensure that all of our programming addresses not only incidents of harassment, but its root causes.

Recognizing the ways that state violence and gendered violence intersect, we released a factsheet and continue to cite this research in our work. We also partnered with Muslim-led groups and allies to form the DC Justice for Muslims Coalition to organize against state violence, and we’re working to identify opportunities for marginalized trans women of color to access supportive employment — potentially in bars and restaurants that we’ve already trained to build safe environments.

Now, I’m thrilled to announce some changes in our Board leadership with new directors who are excited to help us strengthen our commitment to intersectionality:

alicia sanchez gill:
alicia joins CASS’s Board after years of watching CASS grow and change. She currently works toward gender and racial equity as the director of research and program evaluation for YWCA USA where her work focuses on the experiences of women and girls of color. Among other things, alicia has managed crisis services at the DC Rape Crisis Center, volunteered on the outreach van at HIPS, and done grassroots grantmaking with the Diverse City Fund.

alicia is excited to join CASS in this moment as we’re bringing greater attention to the way that gendered harassment intersects with police harassment, and as we work to improve and measure the impact of our programs — we’re excited to have her expertise on our team.

“CASS, in its intention, has always meant to support and highlight the unique ways that femmes of color experience street harassment. I’m excited about CASS’s commitment to queer and trans folks of color,” said alicia. “Our experiences cannot be an afterthought.”


Cecilia Dos Santos:
Cecilia has been a volunteer on CASS’s workshops team for two years, facilitating trainings on responding to harassment and expanding our outreach efforts to the youth in her programs at the Latin American Youth Center. “I wanted to ensure that CASS was specifically reaching Spanish speaking audiences, immigrants, and young people,” said Cecilia.

Two years and many workshops later, Cecilia joins our Board of Directors with enthusiasm for CASS’s new direction. “I want to see CASS’s work move forward with raising awareness, changing behaviors, and building communities free from street harassment through a gendered and anti-racist lens.”

 


Emily Torruellas:
If you’re on our email list, you’ve been getting emails from Emmy already. For the second year in a row, she’s organizing our annual gala (have you bought your tickets?!), and she’s bringing her event planning and fundraising experience to the team.

In her role as a Major Gifts Officer at local poverty relief agency Bread for the City, she manages relationships with major donors and researches new funding sources. We’re eager to bring her new ideas to the table as we work to diversify our funding streams and make CASS’s work more sustainable.

And she’s personally invested in the cause: “I’ve been all too familiar with street harassment since I was in elementary school, and never knew how to address it or defend myself. When I first heard about CASS, I was thrilled to learn that there was a group of people out there trying to make our city safer for everyone, regardless of race, gender identity, or socioeconomic status.”


Welcome, new Board members! We’re so thrilled to have you as part of the CASS family under the new leadership of our fabulous Board Chair, Elizabeth Hague!

Liz joined CASS’s Board one year ago after volunteering with our fundraising and outreach efforts. Lawyer by day and accessibility advocate by night, Liz has pushed CASS to better incorporate the disability lens into our organizing and programming. “I bring a different perspective to the conversation on intersectionality,” said Liz, and she’s consistently proven this to be true.

When we discuss data that shows that black people are three times as likely to be killed as white people, Liz shares additional data showing that 50% of police brutality victims are people with disabilities. We’re grateful for her voice, her service, and her leadership on CASS’s Board!

 

 

 

Meet all of these fabulous new Board members and more awesome humans this Thursday at CASS’s annual party extravaganza, Safe Space Jam.

Want to help DC’s missing Black and Latinx teens? Runaway, homeless youth need housing.

“I left because my foster mother was mistreating me,” one of DC’s missing Black and Latinx teen girls told WUSA9. She opted to sleep in the laundry room of an apartment building next to her sister’s place rather than return to foster care.

Vaneshia Weaver, another teen reported missing, told WUSA9 that she wasn’t missing at all; she was in between group homes. She had been living in unsanitary conditions in one home and she stayed with her father while she waited for another space to open up.

The Mayor’s Office reported that the majority of the missing DC teen girls left home voluntarily, and doubts and suspicions are rampant about them being kidnapped and sex trafficked. There’s a false perception that missing teenagers are one of two characters: the rebellious rulebreaker, fleeing a good home on their own accord; or the abducted child, snatched off-guard and forced into sex work like in the movie Taken. The data paints a more complicated picture.

What does the data say?

According to police data, there hasn’t been a spike in incidents of missing, runaway youth in DC. In fact, the reported numbers are consistent with previous years, and the actual numbers are higher: Not all teens are reported missing. It is valid and necessary to question the police’s account, particularly in the context of law enforcement violence against communities of color. In this case, research backs up their claim.

National data shows that at least 500,000 youth — and as many as 2.8 million — between the ages of 12 to 17 are experiencing homelessness in the U.S.

More than 50 percent were asked to leave by a caregiver, and thousands more ran away because they were experiencing neglect, physical or sexual abuse at home, family rejection because of their queer or trans identity, or in many cases, a combination of these factors.

Many of these kids don’t want to be brought back home; they want to be safe, and for most runaway and homeless teens, home isn’t safe. Still, there are limited job and housing options for unaccompanied youth.

What about sex trafficking?

This is where the sex trafficking narrative comes in. A study by the National Network for Youth showed that more than 60 percent of homeless youth have experienced physical or sexual assault on the street. Sexual harassment and assault in public spaces, as we know well at Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), is incredibly common. But teens have few alternatives to sleeping in public spaces. There are only 4,000 shelter beds across the U.S. for at least half a million unaccompanied homeless youth.

Sex trafficking is a problem, but it doesn’t happen the way you saw in Taken. The people most likely to be targeted are vulnerable homeless youth who have nowhere else to turn. Most commonly, though, runaway and homeless youth are engaging in survival sex: trading sex for a place to sleep or other basic necessities like food.

The solution to youth homelessness is not to bring teens back home to unsafe environments, or to criminalize the actions they take to survive. The solution is housing.

There are at least 500,000 homeless youth in the U.S. and only 4,000 shelter beds for 12 to 17 year olds. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Donate to local shelters housing runaway and homeless youth. Here in DC, there are a lot of great local organizations serving teens in crisis like the Latin American Youth Center, Sasha Bruce YouthWork, and Walda Alston House.
  2. Become a foster parent or host family. Fill out this application with the Latin American Youth Center, and provide temporary or long-term housing to youth — and remember that caregiving for youth who have experienced trauma will take some patience. Build a support network, and make sure you get lots of help!
  3. Support this national campaign to increase funding for youth housing. The National Coalition for the Homeless teamed up with the Ali Forney Center to call for more funding for shelters and services to care for this specific population.
  4. Join CASS at the Day of Action for Housing Rally on April 1st organized by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Bring signage to show support for DC’s Black and Latinx runaway youth, and call attention to the problems they’re facing in our demands for more federal funding for housing.

Intersectionality Isn’t Just a Buzzword. Here’s How to Put It into Practice.

Intersectionality, a term coined in the 1980s by UCLA and Columbia law professor Kimberle Crenshaw, seeks to define the overlapping oppressions that people who are part of multiple marginalized groups experience. “Intersectionality draws attention to invisibilities that exist in feminism, in anti-racism, in class politics,” she shared in a New Statesman article, pointing out the erasure of black women from an anti-racist movement focused on the experiences of black men and a feminist movement focused on the experiences of white women. “It takes a lot of work to consistently challenge ourselves to be attentive to aspects of power that we don’t ourselves experience.”

Organizations are more frequently including “intersectionality” as a buzzword in their messaging, but they’re still struggling with how to put the idea into practice. A number of people have come to me over the last few months with the question: “How can I make my activism and organizing work more intersectional?”

Here are four steps that you can take as an organizer or organizational decision-maker to ensure your work is prioritizing marginalized communities:

  1. De-center yourself; center those who are marginalized by multiple layers of oppression. Systems of oppression like race, class, and sex are interconnected — creating an experience that is transformative, not additive. That means that a shared gender identity will not necessarily produce a shared experience among all women of varying race, class, sexual orientation, housing status, or other factors. For example, though both white women and black women experience gender-based harassment, black women’s experiences with harassment are frequently racialized. Similarly, Muslim women experience gender-based harassment in the context of Islamophobia, and trans women of color experience harassment that is sexist, racist, and transphobic.
  2. Stop asking people of color to show up in the spaces that you organize; show up in the spaces they’ve organized. I consistently hear organizers and nonprofits say they’d like to recruit more people of color to their volunteer base, their Boards, their staff…but they just don’t know how to bring them to the table. Don’t ask yourself why people of color aren’t showing up; ask yourself: Am I showing up? How many POC-led events and meetings have you attended? How have you supported POC-led organizing? How do you amplify the events and messages of POC? POC have been organizing for decades to address the most pressing issues in their communities. Don’t ask them to make the connections to the issue you’re working on — that’s your work to do. Don’t ask them to find ways to overcome hurdles like lack of access to transportation and affordable childcare to find their way to the tables you’ve set. Bring your tables to them. Make your tables kid-friendly. And bring food to put on those tables, too.
  3. Stop telling people of color that they should care about your issue because it disproportionately affects them; find out the specific ways that your issue affects them, and prioritize solutions that may be different. Just about every issue disproportionately affects communities of color — homelessness, health care access, street harassment, poverty, climate change. But when we talk about solutions, we frequently work toward the solutions that accommodate those with privilege, and then we say, “Our solutions will be great for everyone because this issue disproportionately affects communities of color!” That’s not how it works. All of these issues affect marginalized communities in different ways, and that means that the solutions are different. POC have been let down for years by activists whose solutions don’t recognize their unique needs — and that is taxing. First, we have to do the work to find out how these issues are specifically affecting those who live at the margins — and particularly how people are affected when they are part of multiple marginalized groups, such as disabled homeless undocumented trans women of color. Then, once we know how they’re affected, work toward the solutions that address those needs. But how will I find out the different ways that marginalized communities are affected by the issue that’s important to me, you ask? Well…
  4. Pass the mic — and listen. You aren’t here to be a voice for marginalized communities, but you can use your place of privilege to center and amplify their voices. If your organization is asked to speak, write or act on an issue, offer that opportunity to someone directly impacted by that issue instead of speaking for them. And then, listen. This one is literally that simple. Resist the temptation to explain, defend or add your two cents. Instead, step back and defer to people’s lived experiences. Watch our 2015 roundtable on street harassment in full to hear about the experiences of Muslim women with hate-based harassment and trans women of color with hate-based harassment and assault in shelters. We asked those women to testify, we listened to their stories, and we’ve worked with them toward solutions — and we understand that we need to follow their lead.

At CASS, we have worked to center these priorities in the bedrock of all we do. We show up to rallies and events organized by people of color and particularly trans women of color. We take the lead from Muslim organizers when we work to address Islamophobic harassment against Muslim women and queer/trans Muslims, and we join coalitions led by sex workers and those frequently profiled as sex workers when we work to address harassment against trans women of color. We know that the solutions that work for women who are housed, white, cis, able-bodied, and straight are not the same ones that will work for women who are unhoused, nonwhite, trans, disabled, black, and queer.

We understand that street harassment is more than just sexual comments shouted by strangers on the street. It is discrimination in places of public accommodation, like Muslim women being threatened with handcuffs for refusing to remove their religious headwear or trans women of color being misgendered and sent to the men’s restroom. It’s harassment against people who are perceived as vulnerable in some way, and in more cases, seen as vulnerable in multiple ways.

That’s why I’ve proposed that CASS’s Board of Directors and Advisory Council vote to update its mission to serve everyone. Street harassment is not just sexual; it is harassment based on someone’s real or perceived gender identity, racial identity, ethnic identity, religious identity, housing status, sexual orientation, ability, age, health status, and any other identity that makes someone vulnerable — and it especially affects those with a combination of those identities. It manifests in a different way for cis white women than it does for trans women of color. And therefore, the solutions are different.

And if we center the needs of those who live at the margins, there will be a ripple effect for everyone.

Want to join this discussion? Apply to join CASS’s Board! We bring food to Board meetings, and kids are always welcome.

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