You ever come across a story so terrible, you try to convince yourself you didn’t actually hear or see it? I will admit that when I saw the headline “Cops Forcibly Search Woman’s Vagina After Smelling Weed In Her Car,” I shuddered and tried to unsee it for at least a minute. I was searching Twitter for another troubling police-involved story and I wasn’t ready for this one. As it popped up on my timeline moments later, I forced myself to click.
In June, Charnesia Corley of Houston was pulled over for running a stop sign (again, a minor traffic violation sends a Black woman down a traumatic road), and the Harris Country Sherriff’s deputy who did so claimed that he smelled marijuana. According to local news station KTRK, with whom Corley spoke exclusively, the deputy searched the car for an hour. Finding nothing, he requested a female deputy to perform a cavity search. Corley was asked to pull her pants down and stated that she couldn’t because she wasn’t wearing underwear; she was handcuffed at this point. She then claims that she followed orders to bend down, but when the female deputy attempted to insert her hand into her vagina, she resisted—“Ma’am, no. You cannot do this.”
The 21-year-old says the female deputy then threw her to the ground and restrained her. As another officer arrived to assist, two deputies held her legs open as she was subjected to a full-cavity search. She was arrested and charged with resisting arrest and possession of marijuana (the location where it was actually found remains unclear.)
UPDATE-We requested additional information on the case from the Harris County Sheriffs' Office and received the following reply: "Until the completion of an ongoing internal affairs investigation, and pending the status of civil litigation, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office is unable to publicly comment on an alleged incident involving the seizure of marijuana on 6/20/2015. We anticipate that the office of Inspector General will share their findings with Sheriff Ron Hickman in accordance with state law and civil service procedures in the near future."
Even if Corley was high and in possession of marijuana at the time of her stop, that multiple officers of the law saw fit to perform a search of her vagina is beyond unconscionable (and, according to her lawyer and a representative of the ACLU, likely unconstitutional.) In Texas, possession of 2 ounces of marijuana or less is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum fine of $2,000 and 180 days in jail; possession of over 4 ounces is a felony. You can’t fit 2 ounces of weed in your pocket. Even in the unlikelihood that Corley had her vaginal cavity stuffed to the maximum capacity, these sheriffs would accomplish very little by recovering it.
Once again, it seems that a Black female body has been violated by Texas law enforcement for no reason. There was the violent detainment of a 14-year-old girl at that infamous McKinney pool party in early June and the needless arrest of Sandra Bland in mid-July that ended in the woman’s mysterious death days later. Across the country, no less than 5 Black women were found dead in jail cells last month. That we are finding out this story almost two months after the incident took place (shout out to Jezebel for bringing it to a national audience), raises more questions.
As the attention of the world returns to Ferguson in wake of the 1-year-anniversary of Mike Brown’s death and another officer-involved shooting in the area that took place on that very day, Corley’s story is yet another painful reminder that Black women are victimized and assaulted by police too, despite attempts to center Black men in the fight to end police brutality. It also remains to be seen if the nation’s huge marijuana lobby will take this on as yet another example of the abuses committed in the name of the country’s racist “War on Drugs,” at a time when weed is becoming legal and decriminalized. And as Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams issues an unconscionably tone-deaf call to feminists to stand with Megyn Kelly (yes, this Megyn Kelly) after she asked reality star/aspiring politician Donald Trump some fair questions and he was mean to her, one wonders if the country’s loud champions of gender-equality will take on this case—an incident of sexual violence that would likely only happen to a woman of color or a poor White one.
Sexual assault is the crime that keeps on giving. If you live to survive, it may haunt your thoughts so long as you walk this planet. That Coley was allegedly publicly assaulted in such away for suspicion of possessing marijuana is infuriating and heartbreaking. Weed is the reason Snoop Dogg and stoner White boys who exist as stock characters in teen comedies are punch lines; why are the stakes for every day Black folks so different? (Recall how marijuana use by Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Sandra Bland was used to suggest that they possessed some sort of SuperNegro strength at the time of their deaths. Can we please have that weed conversation now?)
The “reasons to be outraged at the American system of policing” list grows longer by the day—please don’t let this story be forgotten.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com’s Senior Editor.