The leaders of Black Lives Matter say this wasn’t their intention. And that media has focused on brutality against black males for their own purpose.
In response the Say Her Name project was born. This group focuses on the rarely discussed problem of brutality against black girls and women. They criticize both the movement and the media for not paying equal attention to these stories.
And they have point. We should say their names. There’s been a series of police brutality incidents involving black women. Some have been fatal.
Almost all of them have led to some level of pain, humiliation and abandonment. The outcomes range from violent death. To sexual assault. To broken bones.
At least six African American women have died as a result of confrontations with police so far in 2015.
The circumstances surrounding these incidents also vary. From a routine traffic stop. To refusing to leave a classroom. To attending a pool party. To casually walking along a California beach.
These women come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some are educated. Some were still in school. Some had untreated mental health issues. What they have in common is their ethnicity.
These were all minor events that somehow escalated. Of course there’s two sides to every story. But people seldom blame the cop. They don’t see over aggressive policing. All they see is a “sista” being disruptive. Not cooperating. Or living up to the stereotype of the “loud” black woman.
Here are just a few of the names. Janisha Fonville. Tanisha Anderson. Sandra Bland. Marlene Pinnock.
Every one of these women where citizens of this country. They had rights that were violated. They all deserved better treatment.
A Disturbing Case of Brutality
Like I said. Not every encounter is fatal. But police brutality incidents are always traumatic. What follows is the story of Antwynette Houston of Louisville, Kentucky. She reached out to me in an effort to get her story told. I’m only glad to help.
Ms. Houston was accosted by an off-duty police officer late one evening at a Louisville gas station. She was driving home from a funeral in Indianapolis. She had her nine year old boy sleeping in the backseat. It was a little before 3:00 AM.
Becoming a victim of brutality was the last thing on her mind.
She made the mistake of parking crooked. No big deal right? Her intention was to make a quick dash for a doughnut. She never even made it into the store.
Suddenly a man drove up in a plain, unmarked car. He seemed to come out of nowhere. He asked her, “why are you parked that way?” He then told her to move her car.
Laughing under her breath and not wanting any trouble. She did just that. But this man decided to stand in the parking space. In order to avoid hitting him. She parked on the line.
This seemed to enrage him. He started yelling. Accusing Antwynette of being drunk. But, she doesn’t drink. He met her at her door. And demanded to see her driver’s licence.
She had seen news reports about guys posing as police in order to abuse women. These fake cops have been known to commit all kinds of crimes.
This goes beyond what we normally think of as police brutality. But these are among the most common police crimes. And the most under-reported. This is for the same reasons most sex crimes aren’t reported.
Predator cops look for women that are alone late at night. With small children. Or drunk. They offer to make tickets go away in exchange for sexual favors. Many times they don’t take no for an answer.
Remember, his car was unmarked. And he showed no identification. At least not to that point.
Being the smart, careful woman she is Ms. Houston decided to get back into her car. The man began banging on her car window. He barked at her to hand him her licence. Again. She refused.
She was nervous. Scared out of her wits. And worried about her young son. And there was practically nobody else around. To her, this man was acting strange. And very aggressive.
The only thing to do was the call the police. She mentioned that to him. He told her in response, I am the effin’ police! This is how she learned the man was an off-duty cop.
At this point officer Scott Sturgeon threatened Antwynette with arrest if she didn’t hand over her licence. He continued to bang on the car window. Waking up the boy in the back seat.
When Ms. Houston tried to hand him her drivers’s licence he grabbed her arm. He then committed an act of blatant brutality. He yanked her out of the car in front of her screaming son.
At this point the officer was clearly trying to hurt her. We know this because he twisted her arm behind her back. After she told him her shoulder was already injured. But. Instead of cuffing her in the front, he decided to cause her more pain.
Cuffing her in the front would have been correct police procedure. Since she had an existing injury. But he was far too angry to care.
The angry police officer then began dragging the frightened lady to his front seat. They didn’t make it that far. Her screaming attracted attention. And part of the incident had been recorded by the 911 dispatcher. She had her phone in her hand the whole time. She never dropped it. Even while wearing cuffs.
During the whole incident the two were having a conversation. She begged him not to do this in front of her child. She kept saying “I’ve done nothing wrong”. “Why are you doing this?” With a smirk, he told her she was going to jail and her son was going to the home of the innocents.
That’s when the scream of sirens began to fill the night air. And a place that had been eerily quiet became a beehive of activity. Soon there were as many a dozen police officers on the scene. And a crowd had gathered.
Sturgeon began talking to folks in the crowd. He claimed he had offered to let Antwynette go if she would just calm down. This was a blatant lie.
He was trying to make her look crazy. And imply she was uncooperative. Which is a common tactic for cops who brutalize women.
The newly arrived officers quickly assessed the situation. They rescued Ms. Houston from the custody of Officer Sturgeon. But they were clearly not going to release her. Not at the moment.
When she begged them to hear her story they refused to listen. They said there was nothing they could do since Sturgeon was the arresting officer. Instead they sat her in the back of a squad car.
Ms. Houston was able to call the arresting officer over to her still sitting in the back of the police car. She asked him to explain to the others that she had done nothing wrong.
Well. He was having none of that.
Instead he got in her face. Barking. He said she was wrong to call for backup. With much force he told her why he arrested her. Saying “you should have just given me your wallet”.
Then he told her driving was a privilege and she “didn’t have any rights”.
What he did next is pure emotional abuse.
When Antwynette began to cry he lifted her head. And asked, “driving is a what?” He repeated the question a few times. Of course it was a rhetorical.
He wasn’t leaving her alone until she said the word “privilege” back to him. So this sobbing, frightened, angry woman was further humiliated by a man who was clearly in the wrong.
A man who had threatened to send her child to the home of the innocents. The man who had falsely accused her of being drunk. The man who hurt her shoulder so badly she would need multiple surgeries.
At about this time Sergeant Jeremy Coleman walked over and apologized for Sturgeon’s behavior. He even promised to file a report against Sturgeon.
After she refused to accept a ride to the hospital, they finally left this woman alone with her son. She sat on the curb sobbing with her boy in her lap. They both waited for child’s dad to pick them up.
The Scars of Brutality
Police brutality leaves deep emotional scars. Its victims can suffer for the rest of their lives. Anxiety attacks. Lowered self-esteem. Fear and mistrust of all police. Some folks even experience PTSD.
There’s a sad reality. It’s routine to blame the victim for these incidents. We just assume the cops are always right.
Most of us won’t be shaken out of this belief until something happens to us. Or to someone we love. Antwynette was one of those people. She never thought it could happen to her. Until she met Officer Sturgeon.
People don’t want to believe law enforcement is out of control. There’s too much at stake. If the cops are really the abusers then our whole way of life is in trouble.
And there are the physical effects of brutality. In the case of Antywnette Houston she was left with mounting medical bills. She had to leave her place of employment. She can’t get benefits because the authorities believe she can still work.
But what kind of work can a person do with one arm?
This Has to Stop
The women most likely to be brutalized by cops come from the same poor communities as male brutality victims. Places with high crimes rates. And heavy police presence.
Poor communities are often targeted as a source of revenue. Official policy encourages police to write more tickets in poor neighborhoods. Leading to more contact with the public. Which leads to abuse of those that can’t afford to pay. Most likely young women.
From stop and frisk to gang sweeps. In these neighborhoods contact with police is inevitable. Many residents know somebody whose life was altered by police brutality.
Out of all of the victims of police brutality, poor females are the most likely to be swept aside. And the least likely to be heard or taken seriously. If we’re going to solve this problem for the larger community, this has to stop.
We need to start valuing the lives of our women. The death of an African American woman at the hands of police is just as devastating to our community. Every bit as troubling. And every bit as wrong.