Recently, I came across a Huffington Post article entitled “Viral Photos Show Black Women Simply Unbothered by Police Intimidation.” The title of the article left me intrigued because I am interested in how police brutality affects women. This topic has largely been left out of mainstream media because often the most vicious or noteworthy incidents are inflicted upon Black men. Except for a handful of names, I feel like I had heard next to nothing about the ways in which Black women and girls experience police violence. Despite not knowing how Black women are victims of police brutality too, I knew that this category of violence does exist. For this reason, I was intrigued by what this Huffington Post article would have to say about Black women simply turning the other cheek to police violence.
While the article seems well intentioned in its efforts to publicize strong Black women, it inadvertently makes it seem as if women can choose whether or not to let themselves be victims of attacks by police. Zahara Hill, the author of the article, discusses Twitter user Matthew Cherry’s series of photos of “badass Black women protesters refusing to succumb to police intimidation.” This is very dangerous language. By saying that these women “refuse to succumb” to pressures from the police, it implies that there are victims that simply capitulate to the intimidation. This paints the picture that Black women have some say in whether or not they are victims. While it is empowering, for example, to view the 2016 photo of Iesha Evans standing peacefully in front of police, it cannot be described as an example of Black women “having no time for police coercion.” Black women can be powerful and strong without be described using language that has other dangerous implications. Not only does the language leave room for assumptions that being victimized by the police is a choice, it also undermines those women who have been victims of police brutality. These women were not presented with the choice to stand up to police or to not, and chose to not. Women like Rekia Boyd, Shantel Davis, and Tanisha Anderson did not have the opportunity or the “privilege” to defend their lives from their attackers.
Because Black women are so routinely left out of the conversation about popular understandings of police brutality, the African American Policy Forum launched the #SayHerName campaign. Police violence against Black women must not be ignored from the larger conversation about police violence against Blacks, nor can it be overshadowed by those courageous Black women who have been able to stand up to police.