When pundits and black leaders bemoaned the irony that a Ferguson grand jury failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson on the same day that slain civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, few noted another cruel irony.
Just as Wilson walked free despite having killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, Marissa Alexander, the battered black woman initially sentenced to 20 years in Florida for firing a warning shot as her abusive ex-husband approached, headed back to prison to serve an additional 65 days on top of the three years she has already served.
Alexander accepted the plea in the face of new charges filed against her, charges that would have amounted to 60 years in prison had she been convicted.
Also absent from the cries are the names of too many other African Americans that have been cut down like Brown. People such as Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Yvette Smith, and most recently, Tanisha Anderson.
A few weeks ago, Anderson’s family called 911 for an ambulance to obtain medical and mental health assistance for the 37-year-old woman. Instead of help, Cleveland police officers slammed the woman on the pavement outside of the family’s home. She died shortly thereafter.
But these are not the only oversights.
Many of the condemnations of police brutality have excluded the experiences of black women who have been sexually assaulted by police officers. The ongoing media blackout surrounding the case of 13 black women allegedly assaulted by a police officer in Oklahoma City may be the hardest evidence of the devaluation of African American women’s lives.
The women have testified to rape, forcible sodomy and sexual battery. These are among the 36 felony charges leveled against Daniel Holtzclaw. Yet the alleged victims remain dislocated from the black community’s rage against racist policing and a broken justice system.
As we move toward turning the tragic death of Michael Brown into a movement that seeks real change in the U.S. criminal justice system, we must include black women’s experience of state-sanctioned anti-black violence.
That means demanding that the Department of Justice investigate the Oklahoma judge who granted and reduced bail in the Holtzclaw case in addition to demanding that the DOJ bring charges against Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Department.
It also means rewriting the laws so that it isn’t nearly impossible to indict police officers who commit homicide. And rewriting laws that also allow battered women to serve decades in prison for attempting to defend themselves.
More broadly, we need a complete overhaul of the justice system everything from the nationwide implementation of cop-body cams, to the implementation of equitable sentencing beginning with how black and white suspects are investigated and charged.
We need better accountability and oversight of the ways that prosecutors adjudicate cases involving African Americans, who we know as a group are disproportionately targeted by police. One of the most egregious examples is that despite parity in black and white drug use, African Americans constitute the vast majority of those arrested for illegal narcotics.
Here again, we cannot fail to stress that this has directly and disproportionately affected black women too.
This blossoming movement must also consider the relationship between police brutality and police abdication namely, police failure to protect and value black lives. This has profound implications for black women because not only does it draw attention to police violence against black women, it also calls attention to the ways that police failure to protect black women has mortal consequences.
You have to wonder how different things might have been for Marissa Alexander if she could have relied on police protection when her abusive ex-husband came back around. Given the fate of black folks such as Tanisha Anderson and Michael Brown, it’s painfully clear why she took her chances and fired that warning shot instead.
Kali Nicole Gross is an associate professor and the associate chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at The University of Texas at Austin. She is author of the award-winning book “Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910.” She is a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.
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— Texas Perspectives (@TexPerspectives) December 9, 2014