by Amanda Zhang
The one year anniversary of Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri occurred back in August. The Black Lives Matter movement has produced a shift in consciousness, particularly with non-black citizens, and the media is paying more and more attention to killing of black men. While the attention being paid to the murders of black men is just, black men are not the sole victims of violence, nor is murder the only form of violence being committed against black bodies.
Black women are being left out of the consciousness-raising equation. Within this same system of racism, black women’s lives are being doubly threatened by both racial and patriarchal constructs. A barely respectable amount of media coverage was given to the controversy surrounding Sandra Bland’s death. Bland was a black woman and outspoken member of her community. After she was pulled over for a minor traffic incident, she was found dead in her jail cell three days later. As a black woman, Bland stood at the intersection of being perceived as a smaller physical threat because she was a woman, and yet still dangerous because she was black.
Young Gifted and Black’s M. Adams explains that the action law enforcement takes against activists, particularly activists of color, is what scholars refer to as “legalistic repression,” whereby activists are targeted and politically repressed within “legal bounds,” without stirring up much controversy. Bland being pulled over and harassed for a minor traffic violation is an example of this type of legalistic repression. Consequently, the media controversy surrounding Bland’s death was mostly reduced to whether she committed suicide or if she was murdered. Far fewer questioned the premise on why she was arrested and jailed for such a minor legal infraction.
Even liberal-leaning cities such as Madison do not fail to use legalistic repression to subtly target black women. As a leader of the Young Gifted and Black coalition in Madison, Brandi Grayson has galvanized many community members to protest racial injustice and has amassed a crowd of supporters.
An action was held last Friday where protesters, organized by YGB, demanded that Madison Police Department (MPD) keep their “Hands Off Brandi.” The protest was sparked when a few days prior, Grayson was pulled over for a broken headlight after numerous incidents with MPD, incidents which ranged from citing her without her knowledge, repeatedly calling her phone, and sitting outside her house.
“The police have been all around me the last several weeks no matter what I’m doing,” commented Grayson.
“Tonight the only difference was they pulled me over. I refuse to be intimidated by their harassment, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about Sandra Bland when I saw the lights in my rearview mirror.” The action featured spoken word by poet T. Banks, chants led by young black women, and a re-inauguration of Brandi Gayson as a leader of racial justice in Madison.
The action was conducted on Madison’s South Side, where the residents are overwhelmingly poor, black, and over-policed. The procession stopped next to Penn Park where a group of young children, mostly young black girls, had gathered around to hear Eric Upchurch, a member of YGB, offer his support of Brandi and condemn the actions of police in Madison, who are attempting to prevent Brandi from continuing her role as a leader in her community.
Alix Shabazz, another member of Young Gifted and Black, explained that the violence being experienced by black women is systemic and each act of aggression is connected. She insisted that the same system of violence was cause for Sandra Bland’s death, for Grayson’s harassment, and Cierra Finkley’s charge of reckless homicide.
Finkley, another black woman in Madison, has also become the victim of the intersections of racial and patriarchal violence.
Finkley, another black woman in Madison, has also become the victim of the intersections of racial and patriarchal violence. As of now, she awaits trial on a signature bond to stay in Dane County over charges of reckless homicide for stabbing Terrence Woods. At Finkley’s bail hearing, the state drew its own distinct picture of her as a black woman. The DA’s office painted Finkley as a flight risk, a bad mother to her five-year old daughter, Carla, and a murderer who needed to be brought to justice by the state, despite Finkley’s vulnerable position as a victim of domestic violence and numerous attempts to receive help. Finkley was portrayed as having no ties to her community, despite a crowd that had gathered behind the courtroom in support of her. The crowd was filled with community members, activists, friends, and family who packed the small waiting room outside the court. Holding posters, they chanted “Justice for Cierra” before being reprimanded and asked to remove their signs.
Defending yourself is not a crime, but being black in America is. Finkley was a victim of domestic violence from an abusive partner as a woman, but in court, she was only seen as criminal for being black.
To be black and to be a woman should not mean that no one bothers to listen to their stories, to engage with their suffering, to protect them as they would any other mother, sister, daughter, friend, and human being. It is outrageous that black men are being killed. It is also outrageous that black women are being targeted for being leaders in their community, for being survivors of domestic violence, and for being freedom fighters against racial inequality. In a racist and patriarchal system, murder isn’t the only type of violence. When we pay attention to the black lives matter movement because we’re outraged that black men are being killed, we should also be paying attention to the lives of all black women that are being threatened as well.