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Black women get killed by police, too: the #SayHerName demonstrations, explained

Demonstrators remembered black women killed by police at a New York City vigil.
Demonstrators remembered black women killed by police at a New York City vigil.
(Keegan Stephan / @KeeganNYC)

On May 20, the African American Policy Forum released a report titled "Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women," to draw attention to the victimization of African-American women — in particular, by law enforcement officers.

The release was accompanied by nationwide demonstrations — notably in New York and San Francisco — designed to draw attention to black women who have been killed, beaten, or sexually assaulted, but whose cases haven't elicited national attention matching that of high-profile cases of unarmed black men killed by police in recent years.

The organizations behind the report, which was co-authored by UCLA professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, and supporters of its message have used the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to its mission.

The background

The names Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Freddie Grayhave become well-known because their recent deaths at the hands of local police sparked protests, elicited media attention, and continue to inspire policy debates.

But the organizations and activists behind #SayHerName point out that during this time, far less attention has been paid to women who have been killed by law enforcement.

"Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality," Crenshaw said in a statement Wednesday. "Yet, inclusion of black women's experiences in social movements, media narratives, and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for black communities and other communities of color."

The authors of the reports specifically point to the police killings of Gabriella Nevarez, Aura Rosser, Michelle Cusseaux, and Tanisha Anderson in 2014, and Alexia Christian, Meagan Hockaday, Mya Hall, Janisha Fonville, and Natasha McKenna in 2015.

Critiques about national apathy toward the plight of black women have been building momentum for some time. In 2014, there was a public debate about the White House's My Brother's Keeper initiative, with many critics — including UCLA's Crenshaw, who wrote a New York Times op-ed titled "The Girls Obama Forgot" — asking why the program would ignore the plight of black women, who face their own set of disadvantages and discrimination.

The goal is more than just attention

The goal of the report and demonstrations is more than just attention — although that's widely understood to be an important first step.

The "Say Her Name" report includes several specific recommendations to remedy national apathy about the plight of black women:

  • At protests, demonstrations and other actions calling attention to state violence, include the faces, names and slogans of Black women alongside Black men.
  • Local and national organizations and social movements must find ways to support all of the families and the surviving victims of state violence. Policy platforms should be developed using an intersectional gender and racial lens to ensure comprehensive solutions to state violence are being built, that address the various ways in which it impacts the lives of all Black people.
  • Spaces must be created to discuss the ways in which patriarchy, homophobia and transphobia impact Black communities as a whole; and hold individuals and organizations accountable for addressing the various ways our communities sometimes recreate systems of oppression.
  • Skills to talk about the multiplicity of ways in which state violence affects cis, trans and gender non conforming Black women and girls should be continuously developed. In so doing, stakeholders can move beyond a frame that only highlights killing.
  • Domestic violence is a leading cause of death for Black women aged 15-34. There is a need to acknowledge that both public and private forms of violence are devastating the lives of women and girls of color

Why the women in San Francisco bared their breasts

In San Francisco Thursday, nearly 300 demonstrators gathered to draw attention to the issues highlighted in the report.

Chinyere Tutashinda, a founding member of the BlackOUT Collective, an  organization that provides training on nonviolent direct action, told BuzzFeed News, "We wanted to be able to say ‘enough is enough' and draw on traditions from Nigeria, Gabon, Uganda, and South Africa, from women who bare their chests and other parts of their bodies in protest." Other organizers told Griffin that the gesture was meant to highlight the societal fixation on black women's physical bodies that seems to exist except — as in the cases of the many killed by police officers in recent years — when those bodies are the victims of violence.

At the vigil held at New York City's Union Square, relatives of women victimized by police brutality — including Rekia Boyd's brother — spoke about their losses and hopes for change.

Watch: Families seek justice in overlooked police killings of African-American women