Say Her Name: Black women deserve justice too

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  • The police killing of George Floyd ignited peaceful Black Lives Matter protests around the world but Marie Claire's Dami Abajingin asks why the killing of black women is rarely centre stage in narratives about police brutality and why #SayHerName matters

    On May 25th the world stood still as a video clip showing the brutal killing of an unarmed black man went viral. His name was George Floyd, he was a father, a son, a brother – a person. But on that fatal day when Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, he was not afforded the dignity that every single person deserves.

    His story is sadly not unique; do you remember 12-year-old Tamir Rice? Or 17-year-old Trayvon Martin? And then there’s Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Philando Castile – all had their lives come to an end due to racist police brutality.

    And what about Breonna Taylor? On June 5th, she should have been celebrating her 27th birthday. Taylor was a key worker, an emergency room technician who dreamed of being a nurse. On March 13th three plainclothes police officers entered her home using a no-knock warrant. Thinking it was a home invasion Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker (a licensed gun owner), shot at one of the police officers hitting him in the leg; the police retaliated with 20 rounds. Taylor was shot eight times – not one of the officers have been charged to date. What makes this case even more saddening is the suspect they were searching for was already in custody.

    say her name

    A demonstrator holds a painting of Breonna Taylor during a protest near the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct on June 7, 2020 (Getty Images)

    The deaths of many black women, like Taylor, killed by police rarely receive the same response as the death of black men. As a black woman, to say this makes me feel devastated would be a huge understatement. To be clear, it is not by any means a competition – every single one of these deaths (and the countless others we are unaware of) are a tragedy. However, the fact of the matter is after a black woman is killed by police there are hardly ever protests, no public outcry. Even in death, the lives of black women and girls are seen as being of less value. This gave rise to the #SayHerName campaign; a social movement that seeks to raise awareness for black female victims of police brutality and to ensure that racism faced by women is not left out of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    It’s been argued that when black women and girls such as; Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tanisha Anderson, Atatiana Jefferson and Charleena Lyles are killed by police it is often in their homes – and because of this domestic location there is no viral video to fuel the outrage that their deaths also deserve. However, I don’t think it is that simple. There are many murders of women that have generated huge public outcry and these murders have no accompanying video footage – but they have happened to white bodies. Piers Morgan argued on Good Morning Britain that if Madeline McCann was a black girl her disappearance would not have garnered as much media attention. His statement was met with shock by many non-black women but he was simply saying something most black women know to be true – something which is reaffirmed every single time the loss of a black female life goes unnoticed.

    say her name

    Flowers, photos, and other items are placed at a memorial for Charleena Lyles at the apartment building in which she was killed in Seattle, Washington, June 2017 (Getty Images)

    The need to bring black women into the narrative cannot be overstated; time and time again the stories of black women killed by police are excluded from the national, let alone the international news agenda. Many UK news outlets have only recently published the story of Breonna Taylor’s death in the first week of June. She was killed in March. As a society, each and every one of us can take meaningful steps towards changing this. Being an ally means taking action; it is not a performative post – it is beyond a black box. If you would like to show solidarity, here are some suggestions on where to begin.

    Say her name – don’t forget their names

    1 Sign the official petition for justice for Breonna Taylor 

    This is demanding the officers who unlawfully shot Taylor to be charged and arrested.

    2 Support black women

    On Blackout Tuesday and for days following there were thousands of posts praising black-owned fashion and beauty brands and content creators. This has to be sustained; a one-off is not good enough.

    3 Empower yourself with knowledge

    Many have said they are listening but are they actively seeking? Asking your black friend to educate you; while it may be well-meaning, is actually rather indolent – especially during this difficult time. There are a plethora of resources, Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins is a great place to start.

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