There is no shortage of reporting on what is known about the killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot by police serving a search warrant to her Kentucky home in March. Yet, there is much to be said (aloud) about her and the 47 other Black women killed by the police since 2015 including that in only two of those cases were officers charged with manslaughter or murder. [One officer was acquitted, and the other case is still pending.] Last week’s grand jury decision to indict one officer with wanton endangerment of Ms. Taylor’s neighbors means that no one was criminally charged in Ms. Taylor’s death. The outrage that has been demonstrated in response is warranted [As Tamika Palmer, Ms. Taylor’s mother, put it, this verdict (again) shows why she has “no faith in the legal system, in the police and the laws that are not made to protect us Black and Brown people”]. It is also encouraging. For too long and too often the experiences of Black women have been unheard in conversations about racial bias and police killings. It took 100 days of protests for an unsatisfying grand jury decision- how long will it take for us, as a nation, to meaningful confront these unsatisfactory realities: That it is Black women who are fatally shot at rates higher than women of other races, and that it is our law enforcement that rarely faces legal consequences for excessive – and fatal – force?
Our society is one that allows injustice to exist not just in conspiratorial whispers and darkened corridors. We are bluntly unjust, and vividly uncompromising in the harms that are instituted and perpetuated against people of color, especially Black women. I am writing to remind us of three facts:
- That in opposition to the rampant and deeply rooted forms of prejudice that Black women endure, they have and continue to call out our society’s cruel and calculated systems of oppression.
- That Black women bore the brunt of COVID serving as essential workers during the pandemic and were paid far less than white men.
- That Black women have a higher voting rate than all other groups of men and women in the U.S., and yet are underrepresented at every level of federal and state political office.
To close the distance between what this evidence demonstrates about the indefatigable character of Black women, and the persistence of conditions that marginalize them, we must see the safety and support of Black women as a responsibility belonging to each one of us. The trepidations that accompany such a commitment – trepidations that Black women are forced daily to confront and overcome to survive – were acknowledged in Rep. Shirley Chisholm‘s speech at Howard University in 1969 – another tumultuous time in our history.
“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of the handle of anxiety, or the handle of faith. And the first battle is won when we fight for belief in ourselves and find that it has come to us while we are still battling.”
There are identified measures that can be undertaken to end police violence, but to “chip away the culture of physical violence that is normalized in policy in America,” especially in defense of Black women, and inch closer to becoming an America that is just and equitable, we must reduce the risk factors for crime and victimization that Black Americans experience that whites do not. In short, investing in Black lives to protect lives is the next step we must take after we #SayHerName.
Breonna Shaquille Taylor was 26 years old and an EMT for the city of Louisville. She worked on the front lines during the early stages of the pandemic. An online call to action campaign was launched in June in her honor. #SayHerName