African and African Disapora Studies Department
African and African Disapora Studies Department

See Dr. Gross' Huffington Post Piece on Sandra Bland

Wed, August 5, 2015

Not only is Sandra Bland's death a frightening loss, as she was smart, energized and about to be a positive force in the lives of black students at her alma mater, but also it is terrifying to consider that it takes the body of a black woman hanging dead in a jail cell -- over a traffic violation no less -- to finally get national attention on the issue of racist, police brutality against us.

Indeed, it has been dispiriting to witness mass-mobilizations for cases like that of Michael Brown Jr. and Eric Garner, while barely seeing actions against the fatal police shootings of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones or 22-year-old Rekia Boyd. And the mothers of slain, unarmed black men should not be the only ones gathered together and lifted up in our communities, mothers of slain, unarmed black daughters must be recognized and supported as well.

It is almost as painful to see otherwise venerable black male activists, scholars and pundits oversee programs, pen articles and appear on television denouncing racist police attacks on black men while never bothering to utter the names of black women who have suffered the same fate, often at the same time.

Indeed the silence had been so all-encompassing that activists initiated the #SayHerName campaign. Recall the heroism of the BlackOUT Collective baring naked breasts at public intersections in San Francisco to call attention to state violence against black women. Moreover, the tireless, important efforts of the African American Policy Forum have yet to shift national public policy.

Even as President Barack Obama addressed inherent biases in the criminal justice system during his speech at the NAACP's 106th Convention, his focus remained overwhelmingly on the plight of black men. His administration has maintained this exclusionary stance despite the likelihood that 1 in 18 black women will be imprisoned in their lifetime.

Black women and men are both victims of racial profiling and historically black women have been more disproportionately represented in the country's prisons than black men. Recent studies show black girls are suspended at twice the rate of black boys, and black girls now constitute the fastest growing juvenile justice population.

Moreover, videos showing black women and girls being brutalized by law enforcement have surfaced all across the country. They give harrowing testimony to what many have long tried to raise awareness about. But also these images point to an unsettling threshold with respect to what it takes to have any movement or nationwide outcry occur on behalf of black women. Sandra Bland is not the only black woman to have been found hanging in a cell under dubious circumstances this month. Kindra Chapman, 18, was also found hanging in a cell in Alabama recently, while Kimberlee Randall-King, 21, died under similarly troubling conditions in Missouri last year.

The Department of Justice must investigate these deaths and black women must take these issues to the poles. Black women made up 60 percent of the black vote in 2012. At a bare minimum we need to develop a voter scorecard that asses whether candidates support criminal justice reforms such as the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1933/S. 1056), enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment committed against the public by any member of law enforcement and the automatic appointment of independent, outside investigators and prosecutors in cases of police misconduct and brutality.

In the meantime, everyone in the black community must continue to mobilize around these cases and the entire country has to stop ignoring outrages committed against black women and girls.

Follow Kali Nicole Gross on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KaliGrossPhD

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