We cannot be silent when the state murders our Black women and femmes with impunity.
Charleena Lyles was murdered by the Seattle Police Department in front of her children in her own home while she was experiencing a mental breakdown. They knew beforehand that she had a history of mental illness and yet they still marched into her home with loaded guns. They did not de-escalate, they used deadly force. She was murdered in her home while pregnant and with her children and she was blamed for it.
Growing up in Baltimore, my parents would have me practice dialing 911 in case there was ever an emergency and I needed saviors. I was taught to see police as the ones with the white hats. I was led to believe that their goal, every time, is to ensure my safety and protection. I was led to believe that I lived in the “Land of the Free” and that my life was valuable. So imagine my disbelief over the years when everything that I believed to be true was invalidated by consecutive murders of Black people at the hands of the police.
I was also taught to believe that the safest place that I can be is in my own home and that as long as I am there, my rights to fight for my life, defend my family, protect my belongings, and assert my livelihood are all going to be respected. So imagine my disbelief in the summer of 2016 when Korryn Gaines was murdered by the Baltimore County Police Department in her own home. Not a care is given that Black women are forced to fight for survival while raising children, even if they cry for help.
I have been lied to. I have been consistently lied to by a system that seeks to destroy my Black ass. I have been set-up and taught to depend on accomplices of white supremacy to protect me from harm because of the lack of widely used, functional alternatives. So I just hope and pray that I come out of those interactions alive and unharmed.
It didn’t surprise me when I learned about Korryn Gaines being gunned down in her own home with her child. It didn’t surprise me that the media blamed lead poisoning for her “erratic behavior” that lead to her death. The system was set-up to disenfranchise Black communities by failing to address poor living conditions, especially in cities like Baltimore, Detroit and Philadelphia. Lead paint poisoning is a direct result of structural racism plaguing our communities and killing our people. Our cries are ignored and our fights for progress are pushed back against.
When the state knocked on Korryn’s door to place her in a cage, her words continued to echo in my head, “They can try to come get it they gon leave with more lead than they poisoned me with.” Anti-Blackness created the conditions which poisoned our babies; anti-Blackness blames our babies for being poisoned; anti-Blackness uses those who we believed were here to protect and serve us, to knock on our doors and murder our babies with impunity.
Cis and trans Black women have been historically denied dignity and humanity. They have been raped by white men and had their babies ripped out of their wombs. Forced to till the land and feed white women’s children from the milk within their own breasts, leaving little to none left for their own offspring. Bearing pregnancy without the respect, gentleness or care given to them for bringing life into this world.
We have been forced to adhere to gender essentialism as outlined through white supremacist norms though never allowed to fully embody womanhood — that was left for white women only. More than a century after Sojourner Truth hollered “Ain’t I a woman?”, black women have been denied agency to use their bodies for survival sex work, and specifically targeted, criminalized, harassed, and incarcerated.
How is it acceptable that Diamond Reynold’s daughter watched her mother’s boyfriend get gunned down in a car while they were on their way back from doing groceries? Black mothers pray each day for their child to be able to come home safely and not be a Rekia Boyd or Mike Brown. Black mothers have to teach their kids how to interact with police officers just so they can stay alive. Black mothers pray that they can be alive to see their children prosper and not be a Betty Jones or Korryn Gaines or Charleena Lyles.
It is imperative that we broaden our examination of state violence and the folks that are affected by it. We must understand that the ways in which Black people are socialized to interact with gender is in direct opposition to our inherent right of self-determination. It also perpetuates specific forms of policing and violence against those who do not embody that which is seen as ideally productive and beneficial to capitalist systems. This includes Black people, women, trans and gender non-conforming folks, disabled folks and the elderly.
State violence operates like a network of roots – while stemming from white supremacy and capitalism, it takes various forms to weaponize against Black and brown people. Interpersonal violence, murders of Black trans women by their partners, limited access to healthcare, mass incarceration, criminalization of sex economies, murders at the hands of the police – they are all connected in some way to anti-Blackness and functioning capitalism.
We cannot be silent when the state murders our Black women and femmes with impunity. We have to speak their names and shed light on the ways in which Black women and femmes are under attack and work to ensure that no woman is harmed without recourse.
We must acknowledge the importance of Black women in this movement work. In order to truly be liberated, we have to develop an analysis around which folks on the margins our society can center and uplift their leadership. Because none of us can be free until we are all free. None of us are free unless we are fighting to create space for Black women to have life-affirming, reproductive health. None of us are free until disability justice is completely resonant in our work. None of us are free until trans women are able to navigate within their full dignity without harm. None of us are free until we make room for Black women and femmes.