Adrianne Gladden-Young: Give black scientists a place in this fight
Erica Garner was 23 years old when a New York City police officer placed her father, Eric Garner, in a chokehold and killed him. His dying words were, like Floyd’s, “I can’t breathe.” His daughter became an outspoken advocate for police reform, a face of the Black Lives Matter movement. That is, until she died at age 27 of a heart attack brought on by asthma. Her family said in a Twitter statement at the time, “When you report this you remember she was human: mother, daughter, sister, aunt. Her heart was bigger than the world. It really, really was. She cared when most people wouldn't have. She was good. She only pursued right, no matter what. No one gave her justice.”
Black women and girls’ interactions with the criminal-justice system are not just ancillary. Their direct involvement with police begins early. Black girls are suspended from school at a rate six times higher than that of white girls. They are “the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system,” according to an article in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy—1.2 times more likely to be detained and 20 percent more likely to be charged than their white counterparts.
Black girls are also treated with excessive force. A viral video filmed in 2015 showed a white policeman astride a small, 14-year-old, bikini-clad black girl in McKinney, Texas. He and other officers had responded to calls from white neighbors about a teen pool party. In 2016, another video showed a South Carolina school resource officer and sheriff’s deputy slamming a teenage black girl backward from her chair for refusing to give up her cellphone. Both that girl and another black girl who came to her defense were arrested.
Black trans women experience disproportionate police harassment. According to a report on anti-transgender violence, more than a third of black trans women who interact with law enforcement are assumed by police to be sex workers, leading to harassment, abuse, and mistreatment.
Kristy Parker: Prosecute the police
Although the assumption that women are “the fairer sex” and, along with their children, to be protected endures, that belief and that protection have always been the privilege (as well as the burden) of middle-class white women. And not all children are deemed innocent and immature; certainly black ones are not. Since 1619, America has viewed black women and girls very differently from their white counterparts.
As I explained in my book The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, these biases helped justify enslavement and exploitation in antebellum America. Slaveowners called black women “masculine” and “bestial” to justify hard manual labor, and “aggressive” and “lascivious” to rationalize rape and the breeding of new human property. They viewed black women and girls as devoid of human emotion to pardon separating them from their loved ones, and as natural servants to excuse ignoring their personal agency. White people called black women “ugly,” “hard,” and “valueless” to differentiate them from the fine white ladies of land-owning gentry. Black girls were rarely called children, simply young chattel that had not yet come into its complete usefulness. “Many of the earliest representations of black children demonstrated their exclusion from the social category of childhood,” Crystal Lynn Webster wrote in The American Historian, adding that women such as Mary Prince and Harriet Jacobs, who documented the experience of bondswomen, “represented their enslavement through the violent losses of their childhood innocence and … sexual violations of girlhood in the world of slavery.”