In the weeks following George Floyd’s murder, communities around the U.S. have collectively mourned the killing of another African American at the hands of police officers.
In the midst of widespread civil unrest, Black women mayors have taken the lead in speaking out against the murder of George Floyd, standing in solidarity with protesters, and helping to protect the safety and wellbeing of their communities. At times it can be extremely difficult to balance the diverging desires of their communities, as Ravi Perry, the dean of the political science department at Howard University pointed out. “The challenge of being both Black and being a woman … I think all of that plays into perhaps the cautious nature with which you see these mayors engaging their activist communities.” Moreover, Perry pointed out the difficulties that many mayors face in “representing a system that many of the left in the community believe should be dismantled.”
However, Black women mayors across the U.S. have risen to the challenge, supporting their communities through civil unrest and calls for justice. Here are seven Black women mayors in major U.S. cities helping to heal and strengthen their communities.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
Mayor Bottoms, who stands as a potential pick for Joe Biden’s running mate, has captured the nation’s attention with her powerful remarks on the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests occurring in Atlanta.
In a compelling speech last Friday, the mayor expressed her own grief at Floyd’s death.
“When I saw the murder of George Floyd,” she said, “I hurt like a mother would hurt.”
She urged protesters to avoid vandalism and violence, reminding her constituents of Atlanta’s legacy of Black mayors and police chiefs, as well as the over 50 percent of Atlanta business owners who are people of color.
“When you burn down this city, you’re burning down our community,” Bottoms said, calling instead for peaceful protests.
Donald Trump took to Twitter in the days following Floyd’s death, calling protesters “THUGS” and warning that “when the shooting starts, the looting starts.” Bottoms promptly condemned the president’s actions, telling CNN that the president “should just be quiet,” and adding that his insensitive comments are only “making it worse.”
Bottoms has been a powerful and influential voice in the face of national civil unrest, inspiring U.S. citizens to move for change through peaceful protests and the power of the vote.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed
“Yes I’m a mayor, but I’m a Black woman first,” she said, later describing her own experience losing a family member to police violence.
Breed empathized with the pain, hurt and frustration that many protesters and people of color have expressed, and promised not to “sit quietly by and let it happen again.” In a moment of divisiveness, Breed brought protesters together, leading a “kneel-in” in solidarity with the African American community and Black Lives Matter movement.
Breed has also urged protesters not to stray from the central message of the movement.
“Your words mean nothing if your actions are something else. Stop turning Black Lives Matter into a joke, because it’s not. It’s born out of pain, it’s born out of disrespect and racism,” she told the crowd.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Mayor Lightfoot has spoken frankly about her feelings on George Floyd’s murder.
“It’s impossible for me, as a Black woman who has been the target of blatant racism over the course of my life, not to take the killing of George Floyd personally,” she said in a press conference last Friday. “Being Black in America should not be a death sentence.”
The mayor reminded Chicagoans of the city’s history of police brutality, namely the killings of Laquan McDonald, Quitonio LeGrier and Rekia Boyd by Chicago police officers. Lightfoot has since announced measures to fundamentally reform the Chicago Police Department in the coming 90 days.
Lightfoot spoke out against vandalism and looting, warning protesters not to “conflate legitimate First Amendment expression with criminal conduct.”
In her discouragement of vandalism and further violence, Lightfoot has been an inspirational example of a Black woman leader encouraging justice while still protecting and healing her community.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser
Mayor Bowser has spoken out about the U.S.’s history of violence and oppression towards Black Americans. On NBC’s Meet The Press, Bowser emphasized the “segregationist past of our country” and the systematic, institutional racism which plagues the United States.
“It’s going to take community and government to heal the hurt that people are feeling,” she told host Chuck Todd.
Bowser has also clashed with Trump over the use of federal police forces to quell D.C. protests, condemning violence towards protesters. She told CNN that she was “shocked and quite frankly outraged” by the actions of federal forces, which threatened the safety of her city and constituents. She has promised to continue protecting the First Amendment rights of D.C. protesters despite actions by the federal government.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell
As the first Black woman mayor of New Orleans, Mayor Cantrell has actively worked to support and heal the city’s majority Black community.
In an interview with BBC, Cantrell described that as “an African American woman who has felt the sting of oppression,” she is “very much tired of this happening over and over and over again in the Black community, to Black people, in particular Black men.” She has recognized and identified with the hurt that her community is feeling, voicing her outrage at the death of George Floyd.
Cantrell is encouraging peaceful protests, and has promised to protect her constituents’ right to free speech as well as the safety of the city. She has been active on social media and Twitter, highlighting the collaboration between the New Orleans Police Department and civilian protesters.
Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Vi Lyles
As the first Black woman serving as mayor of Charlotte, Mayor Lyles has emphasized the need for the community to come together to grieve Floyd’s death.
“Today we had the opportunity to come out for a faith-based gathering about the terrible hurt and frustration we’ve had as a result of George Floyd’s death and how it has manifested itself in Charlotte,” she said in a video posted to Twitter on May 31.
Lyles emphasized her desire to hear and acknowledge protesters while simultaneously keeping her city safe. “
We want to do it in a way that protects our residents, our neighborhoods, our communities,” she told reporters last Saturday after declaring a state of emergency.
She has promised to be a “deliberate listener” as her community grieves and speaks out against police violence.
Baton Rouge, La., Mayor Sharon Weston Broome
Mayor Broome recognized the pain and outrage of protesters in her city, saying that George Floyd’s death has “shaken the foundation of communities and hearts across America” in an address to her constituents last Friday. She emphasized the action she plans to take in partnership with the Baton Rouge Police Department to increase training for officers and diminish the use of excessive force.
The mayor also met with peaceful protesters on Tuesday in order to ensure open communication between city officials and protesters. In light of the violent protests in Baton Rouge after the killing of Alton Sterling in 2016, the mayor has worked to ensure law enforcement officers and protesters work together to maintain peaceful protests.
As the only Black women mayors of the 100 most populous U.S. cities, these women have led and healed their communities in the face of blatant injustices. They set an example for women and girls everywhere as they lead the push for justice and change, while taking care to continue bringing their communities together.