On August 1, 2016, Korryn Gaines became the newest Black victim of police violence to be introduced to the world. The 23-year-old mother of two was gunned down following a six-hour standoff in which Baltimore County Police attempted to serve warrants for Gaines and her boyfriend.
According to reports, police obtained a key to Gaines’ apartment from her landlord and shot at Gaines first, who returned fire with a gun she legally owned.
There will be plenty of reported accounts of what is alleged to have taken place. Those who take the police account as gospel will run with it, despite a lack of body camera video and the deletion of Gaines’ Facebook account, which captured the moments leading up to her fatal ending. According to the Washington Post, police requested that her account be disabled, which Facebook granted. Those who have no reason to trust the police will be skeptical of their accounts until more video is released.
This, however, is not about that. Nor is it about the lead poisoning Gaines was exposed to in her formative years, or the healthy and justified fear she had for law enforcement, which all culminated in her tragic end. This is about us. What we do in response to police violence against Black bodies. And oftentimes, what we do not do.
In the last three years, I’ve welcomed more dead Black bodies into my world via hashtags and the editorials than I can even remember. I’ve marched for men, women and children that I didn’t know, but have come to know well through obituaries and family testimonials. I’ve sat at the tables of power to advocate and push for police reform. And at every step of the way, at every pit stop, and every organizing and strategy meeting, I’ve been surrounded by intelligent, strong and passionate Black women.
From the birth of the movement for Black lives, and the movements that preceded the present battle for liberation, Black women have been on the front lines advocating for their brothers/sons/fathers/husbands/friends.
However, seldom do I see my brothers advocating en masse on behalf of their sisters/daughters/mothers/wives/friends in return. It seems that in case after case when our better halves find themselves on wrong side of an officer’s gun, baton or bare hands, we are nowhere to be found.
And when the silence is broken, far too many of us end up parroting the same talking points we decry when a Black man is the victim. The same pro-police messages we pushed back against for Philando, or Alton, or Tamir, I’ve heard used against India and Sandra and Natasha.
Korryn Gaines, in the span of 24-hours has been tried twice and executed twice. First by officers serving a warrant for traffic violations, and later, posthumously, by many Black men who have, inexplicably, turned into police defenders.
A casual glance at the #KorrynGaines hashtag on Twitter reveals more than a handful of Black men implicitly or explicitly stating Gaines deserved her fate.
Sadly, the anti-Gaines talking points mirror those we see from men who need a woman to be an ideal victim before believing a story of rape or sexual assault: What was she doing? Why did she have a gun? Why didn’t she comply?
While we may be a ways away from closing the empathy gap for believing Black women who are victims of sexual violence, there should be no shortage of empathy, outrage and organizing on the part of Black men towards Black women victims of police violence.
Solidarity is a two way street. Black women have stood, marched and organized for us. It is time we do the same. For the Korryn Gaineses and Sandra Blands, and all the other Black women for whom we’ve failed to #SayHerName.
The movement demands it. But we should also be on the front lines for Black women because we know what this feels like.
Like Korryn Gaines, we know what it’s like to be targeted by police, to be pulled over consistently for minor traffic violations.
Like Korryn Gaines, we know what it’s like to be snatched up and held without charges.
Like Korryn Gaines, after decade after decade, video after video and tale after tale of Officer Friendly terrorizing our neighborhoods, we know that when the police tap on our windows or come to our homes, they are not always here to protect and serve.
Like Korryn Gaines, we know that surrendering and getting in the back of a car or van does not guarantee that you walk out on two feet.
The Black community is a matriarchy with patriarchal aspirations, which makes the collective silence of Black men stunning. If there was ever a time for us to be the people we say we are in times of peace — heads of households, leaders, warriors, kings and ones worthy of being submitted to, for the Christ followers out there — it is past time that we live up to those lofty ideals in times of conflict.
As the late Malcolm X said in a 1962 speech, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
That quote should not read like it was spoken yesterday if we were living up to our words and obligations for Black women. Black women would not, and should not, be the most disrespected, unprotected and neglected persons in America. And, given the realities of state violence, even if Black women were the most disrespected, unprotected and neglected persons here, those assaults on Black women’s bodies should not come from us, nor should we be sprinting to justify attacks from outsiders.
Brothers, solidarity is a two-way street. It’s time we #SayHerName all the time. Every time.
Without sisters having to ask.