We have not been given the opportunity to express the pain that we feel. What happens when we're walking down the street is that people will harass us and see us as being both women and also black, and they understand that nobody gives a shit about us. The police won't help us. A lot of our men won't stick up for us, unfortunately. People know this. We are the women who they can take these things out on. They can sexually harass us, they can rape us, and who's going to believe the word of a black woman? I've had conversations with white women who have said, "I've had guys say, 'Hey sexy' to me, and that's as far as it's gone. But I've seen black women get harassed, and it's worse. It's been, 'Hey bitch', and grabbing, and I just don't understand why black women get it worse than we do." It's because they know that nobody is going to stick up for black women.
You don't see the police as a remedy?
Not at all. Police street-harass us too. They rape us, they abuse us. Particularly if you appear to be a sex worker or you are a sex worker. Many have reported that police will threaten them with arrest unless they perform sex acts for them. A lot of women have reported that they have been sex-harassed by police officers. I had a police officer try to talk to me in a flirtatious way with a hand on his gun. And I'm saying, "You need to do your job and stop trying to holler at me," and he sort of smirks it off. But he has his hand on his gun, which is holstered at his waist. No, that's not intimidating at all.
I approached the New York Police Department last year, and I said, "What can be done about street harassment?" They're like, "What are you talking about?" I said, "When we're walking down the street, and these men are saying really vile and nasty things to us, what kind of protection do we have?" The basic answer was "nothing." It's just verbal, you have to ignore it, they're not breaking any laws. Now if they were to follow you for several blocks, you could report to the police officer that someone has been following you, but then he could also say that he was just going the same way. If it's the same guy doing it two days in a row, you could say it's a repeated action ….
They were giving all these qualifiers. I explained that we walk down the street and five or 10 men will say these nasty, horrible things to us. The guy said, "You should try wearing headphones." I said, "That's the best you can do?" And he said, "We can't arrest people for speaking."
A lot of times when police see black men and black women interacting, they assume it's a domestic dispute. A woman can be yelling, "Leave me the fuck alone!" and it's read as, oh this woman is having trouble with her boyfriend. It's not read as, she may be having an issue. If a white woman is in a black neighborhood and yells at a black man, "Leave me the fuck alone!" and the police are around, they'll come up and ask, "Is everything all right?" But with us they won't do that.