The simple act of speaking their names has power. It symbolizes a refusal to forget these women and who they were. It honors the lives they lived and the loved ones they left behind. And it is a resounding indictment of a police state where the deaths of Black women are seen as collateral damage.
That’s why the African American Policy Forum launched the #SayHerName campaign this week to elevate the experiences of Black women—especially lesbian, bisexual and trans Black women—in national dialogues about police brutality.
Kimberle Crenshaw, director of AAPF, co-author of the #SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women report, and the author of Ms. magazine’s “Black Girls Matter” feature, said in a press release:
Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality. 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 names of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray or Tamir Rice are instantly recognizable, while if you said Michelle Cusseaux or Shereese Francis, you likely would get back a blank stare. And though the #BlackLivesMatter movement is helmed by Black women activists, media conversations on police brutality have remained centered on Black men and boys, despite the fact that Black women also experience profiling and over-policing.
In fact, in 2013, out of all the women stopped by NYPD, 53.4 percent were Black, 27.5 percent were Latina and only 13.4 percent were white. Just like men of color, women of color are singled out for harassment, profiling and violence. Plus, because of their intersecting oppressions of being Black and female, Black women and girls face the added threat of sexual assault. Public narratives need to be gender-inclusive or risk erasing the realities faced by non-white women.
Since the #SayHerName campaign began, the hashtag has taken off on social media, becoming the second most popular hashtag in New York on Wednesday according to AAPF. #SayHerName has sparked action offline as well with rallies and vigils taking place in New York City and the Bay Area. In New York’s Union Square, the family members of Black women killed by police reflected on the lives of their lost loved ones, and in San Francisco, a group of Black women activists mounted a topless protest to condemn a culture that hypersexualizes Black women’s bodies while brutalizing those same bodies.
If the push for police reform doesn’t factor the stories of Black women into its framework, then that reform is incomplete and meaningless. The memories of slain Black women implore you to #SayHerName. Say it today, say it tomorrow, and say it every day.