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

“Even the people who are hired to protect us can be the ones harassing us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Location: Chinatown, near McDonald’s on 7th Street NW
Time: Daytime (9:30am-3:30pm)

Today, during my lunch break, I was walking back to my office from Washington Sports Club in Chinatown. I noticed a man and woman walking towards each other, and the man seemed to be saying something to the woman. I realized that he was a security guard (from the patch on his jacket, though I’m not sure where he was supposed to be working), and then I realized that he was leering at her and making comments. He was looking her up and down, saying things like “how you doin”, to which she mumbled something and opened the door to McDonald’s. Even when he’d passed her and was several feet away, he was still turning around and staring at her. It was really disgusting and I may have called him a name in response to it.

It made me realize that even the people who are hired to protect us can be the ones harassing us. I was worried for the woman and then worried for myself once I spoke up towards him.

Luckily he didn’t react to me and kept on his way. But again, what do we do when people in authority positions harass us?

Submitted 3/21/17 by “M.G.”

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault? Share your story to help raise awareness about the pervasiveness and harmful effects of street harassment. All submissions are posted anonymously unless otherwise specified.

If you experience or have experienced sexual harassment on the DC Metro system: Whether the event is happening at the moment or occurred months ago, we strongly encourage you to report to Metro Transit Police (MTP): www.wmata.com/harassment or 202-962-2121. Reporting helps identify suspects as well as commons trends in harassment. You can program MTP’s number into your phone so you can easily reach them when needed.

If you need assistance in coping with public sexual harassment or assault, please contact the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) 24/7 crisis hotline at 202-333-RAPE (202-333-7279).

In Solidarity

At CASS, we are dedicated to building spaces that treat all individuals with dignity and respect. We work every day to challenge power imbalances that enable the unequal treatment of people in public spaces.

It’s an especially important time to recognize the importance of countering state violence — violence enacted by a government or its institutions—in this mission.

Today, our new factsheet illustrates that state actors have long been perpetrators and facilitators of gender-based violence. Sexual assault is the second most common form of police violence, following excessive force, and the issue has been on national agendas since 2007.

This violence is disproportionately experienced by marginalized populations including women of color, transgender women, those living with mental illness, and undocumented immigrants.

It’s clearer than ever that addressing the role of the state in perpetrating violence must be part of our work toward the safety of all.

This weekend, CASS will join the Women’s March on Washington in an anti-racist, anti-street harassment contingent marching for safe public spaces for everyone.

If you’ve followed the news, you’ll know that the march has drawn criticism for many legitimate reasons: co-opting a 1997 march led by black women, lacking focus, and censoring the input of women of color. At its conception, the march was billed as a feel-good exercise for white women that excluded and ignored minority voices.

As a more experienced team of organizers took the reins (read: thanks to the physical and emotional labor of women of color), things have improved. Last week, the Women’s March released a policy platform that many of us felt we could get on board with.

It’s not perfect, and our concerns persist. But it’s a step in the right direction.

We are excited to be part of a march that will bring many into the fold and amplify the call for safe public spaces.

We will continue our commitment to building communities in which people of all backgrounds, identities, and experiences can feel safe. We will resist racist policing, violence, and other forms of state-sanctioned oppression that target people of color, sex workers, and other disenfranchised communities.

We are proud to stand up for black, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQNC, and immigrant women, and so many others who have been on the receiving end of hate and harassment. We are honored to recognize their past, present, and future legacies in defending human rights.

We will continue to call out white feminism and other exclusionary agendas when we see them, and work to build movements that center the most marginalized identities in our community. We believe that activism is divisive, inefficient, loud, and uncomfortable — and necessarily so.

See you on Saturday.

Jailed for Self-Defense: How the Criminal Legal System Fails Survivors of Color

October 1st marks the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For me, it also marks four Octobers since I was arrested for attempting to defend myself against an abusive partner. I grabbed a knife to scare him off, and he wrapped his hand around the blade to pull the knife out of my hand. When the police came, he ran outside and said, “She stabbed me.”

We were both arrested: He was arrested for simple assault, and I was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. He showed off his bleeding palm as proof that I had stabbed him, and I was silent, afraid that I was responsible. I spent a full night and the next day in jail, being teased by officers: “You’re the one who stabbed your boyfriend, right?”

We were both released the next day, with no charges, but I learned an important lesson: the right to self-defense does not extend to people who look like me.

And so a month later, when he hit me in the face, I didn’t react. Four months later when he choked me and threw me into a table, I didn’t fight back. Because I knew that women of color are viewed as having no selves to defend.

I’m lucky that I spent only 14 hours in jail. Not like Marissa Alexander, who was incarcerated for three years in Florida for firing a warning shot when her husband threatened her life. Or Gigi Thomas, who is still incarcerated and facing murder charges here in DC for the actions she took to save her own life.

For women of color, the issues of gender-based violence and police brutality are not separate; they are completely intertwined. We are victimized first by our abusers and again by a legal system that views communities of color as criminal and arrests women of color for fighting for our lives.

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It happened again to 15-year-old Bresha Meadows. Her abusive father terrorized Bresha and her family. She tried reaching out for help and reporting the abuse. She tried to find a safe way out. But the system failed her, and she was forced to take matters into her own hands. She killed her father to protect her life, and now she’s in jail awaiting a hearing on October 6th. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, CASS is organizing a letter-writing event at Potter’s House this Sunday at 5pm.

Join me on Sunday to write letters to the prosecutor and ask him to #FreeBresha!

For more stories of women and girls of color jailed for self-defense, check out the anthology No Selves to Defend.

Police Harassment Is Street Harassment

“Every time you see me, you want to harass me,” Eric Garner told police before he was killed.

Philando Castile had been pulled over by the police 52 times before the night he lost his life.

But there was no uproar about these incidents of harassment. There’s no place to report it. Harassment is not a crime, and because of the way that communities of color are disproportionately harmed by the criminal legal system, advocacy organizations like ours caution against criminalization. But there must be mechanisms in place to report harassment, access support, and intervene if you witness someone else being harassed.

Street harassment is about power and control, which manifests itself in more ways than gender dynamics. Historically, when we have defined street harassment, we referred to it as unwanted contact between strangers in public spaces motivated by gender, gender presentation, or sexual orientation. But we can’t talk about power and control without also discussing factors like race, class, ability, and housing status.

With the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling this month, and the killings of Raphael Briscoe and Alonzo Smith here in DC, we cannot continue to ignore harassment by the state. Police harassment is street harassment.

And we know how to address street harassment. We’re collecting data on these everyday interactions, launching awareness campaigns, and training the people who are uniquely positioned to address the problem to use bystander intervention skills to prevent harassment from escalating to assault or even murder.

In recent years, we are starting to bring about the cultural change we need to show people that street harassment is a problem — and that it shouldn’t have to escalate before we recognize it as a problem. According to a 2014 study, more than 60% of women who experienced street harassment feared that it would escalate to something more severe. That fear is not unfounded: Sexual harassment is backed by the threat that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

More than 1,000 people are killed by police every year, with black people three times more likely to be killed than white people. And it often starts with less severe incidents of harassment that become so normalized that targeted communities have learned to brush it off.

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We need to get angry about these pervasive incidents of harassment before more black lives are lost. We also need to recognize the intersecting identities that make people more vulnerable to police violence.

A recent study by the Ruderman Family Foundation showed that as many as half the people killed by police had some kind of disability. In DC, the 2015 Trans Needs Assessment showed that 18% of transfeminine people have been assaulted by police in public spaces. We also know that black women, and especially black transwomen, are most likely to be sexually assaulted by police officers, least likely to be believed, and rarely offered support or justice.

We don’t need to see more videos of black lives being taken by the police. We need to call out police harassment as everyday racism and stop the problem before it escalates.

Share your street harassment stories with us at bit.ly/CASSblog, and we will start tracking police harassment to collect local data on the problem and approach DC Council about taking specific policy steps to address harassment that consistently threatens black lives.

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