In Ferguson, just miles away from where Michael Brown, Jr. was gunned down by Officer Darren Wilson, Correctional Officer Jaris Hayden raped a pregnant Black woman.
In Bridgeton, New Jersey, just miles away from where Jerame Reid was killed by Officers Braheme Days and Roger Worley, Officer Braheme Days raped a Black woman by the name of Shakera Brown.
In New York City, where Eric Garner was choked to death by Staten Island police officers, a Bronx ‘Pastor’ cop raped a sixteen-year-old Black girl.
Police rape happens in the same places where police-involved shooting deaths happen. But no one pays attention to them. Society sensationalizes shooting deaths, by all too often elevating the narratives of cisgender, heterosexual Black male victims over Black cisgender and transgender women, queer, and gender non-conforming folks.
Police rapes, like police-involved shooting deaths, are mortifying and egregious. As Dr. Brittney Cooper recently noted, Black women and girls have endured “long histories of racialized sexism and sexualized racism.” Yet, the silence in our communities is often deafening.
Following in a long-standing tradition of White police rapists, Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City sheriff, raped thirteen Black women while on duty between 2013-2014. For many, demanding justice for Michael Brown, Jr. was prioritized over Holtzclaw’s rape victim’s pleas this past summer. Just as Darren Wilson murdered Mike Brown, so many Black women have been killed and raped by police and other men, only for their deaths and rapes to be footnoted or out-rightly thrown to the side.
In October 2014, in the midst of #FergusonOctober, Boynton Beach, Florida “Cop of the Month,” Stephen Maiorino, held a gun to the head of a 20-year-old Black woman as he raped her on the front hood of a police car. Maiorino was arrested and fired from his job, but there has been little outcry from the Black community, just as there were no freedom rides to Oklahoma this past summer to galvanize against Holtzclaw. To be clear, organizing and demanding justice for the lives of cisgender Black men is crucial, but we cannot silence or perpetuate misogynoir against Black women and girls in the process. That, too, is a form of anti-Blackness.
Just as the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) contends, “A Black person in America is killed by a police officer, security personnel or vigilante every 28 hours,” Black Women’s Blueprint (BWB), a Black feminist NGO, states, “60% of Black women report having been raped before age 18.” BWB also estimates that “less than 10% of government funding goes to ending rape.” Yet, the Obama administration continues to propose new funds for police work that does not address sexual violence, or anti-Black policing in general, across the U.S.
White supremacy is multifaceted, and in many ways, it is muddled with racialized, gendered, classed and sexualized obsessions with Black bodies, and an even greater patriarchal fixation on Black female bodies. And as white supremacy violates Black men and boys, it also dehumanizes and destroys the lives of Black women and girls.
On April 1, 1979, the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black lesbian feminists, joined a group of 1500 people in Boston to memorialize the lives of six Black women murdered by the state. By May, that number had jumped to 12. It is believed that some of these women had been raped or sexually assaulted by white racists before they were murdered in the streets with impunity. Within their pamphlet, “Six Black Women: Why Did They Die?” the Combahee women stated, “Our sisters died because they were women just as surely as they died because they were Black. They continued, “One reason attacks on women are so widespread is to keep us down, to keep us oppressed we have to made afraid. Violence makes us feel powerless and also like we’re second best.” Their words were followed by “with no immediate cause,” a long, heartfelt poem written by Black feminist and survivor Ntozake Shange:
“every 3 minutes a woman is beaten
every five minutes a
woman is raped/every ten minutes
a lil girl is molested
yet I rode the subway today
I sat next to an old man who
may have beaten his old wife
3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago”
These numbers are terrifying, but real. They are also indicative of so many ills within Black communities, but also throughout Africa and its diaspora. Sexual violence is an issue that we have for so long avoided talking about. As Black people who collectively wrestle with PTSD, talking about gender-based, sexual trauma on top of and alongside of racial trauma, proves a daunting task. But our liberation necessitates transparent conversations and sincere social action around sexual violence.
As a cisgender Black man who works at the intersection of criminal justice and anti-rape work, I believe that we must answer to the cries of Black women and girls just as boldly and unapologetically as we run to the rescue of Black men and boys. This, too, is our duty; for truly, our movements have committed grave sin against our sisters, and in this hour, as freedom fighter Assata Shakur reminded us in 1973, “We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Ahmad Greene-Hayes is a writer and community organizer working with Black Lives Matter: NYC and Black Women’s Blueprint.