Sticks and stones may not break your bones, but stereotypes can certainly put your life in danger. That’s the message of a new report on police violence against women of color.
Not only are black women, just like black men, in interactions with the police often alleged to be armed and dangerous when they’re not, but even when they are experiencing a mental health crisis, black women are seen as somehow invulnerable.
I heard the same thing repeatedly last week when I sat with relatives of black women victims of police violence in the run-up to the extraordinary #sayhername protests that took place in several major cities in the US. In more than half of their stories, the victims were in need of help, not violence, and yet in just about every case, the killer justified his acts on the basis that he feared for his life.
Michelle Cusseaux’s mother Frances, said she called her daughter’s mental health facility to check on Michelle because she lived alone and seemed to be having a breakdown. Instead of help, came cops, and one sergeant who decided to shoot the five-foot-five, one hundred and thirty-pound Michelle in the heart because, he said, he felt threatened, by “the look on her face.”
Kayla Moore was acting oddly and talking to herself when her roommates called for mental health assistance. Instead of psychiatric professionals came police who decided to isolate, restrain and attempt to arrest Kayla, a transgender woman, by sitting on her. She ultimately suffocated to death.
She was “seemingly violent,” the police said later.
There’s "seemingly violent" and then there’s all this death.
The stories of Cusseaux and Moore and others are written up in a new report from the African American Policy Forum. “The fact that black women are rarely viewed as women in distress can cost them their lives," the authors write.
Even when they’re in trouble, black women are perceived as threatening. Already vulnerable, they end up victims.
Several of the families are calling for new laws, requiring that trained health professionals respond to health crisis calls and that police officers receive some mental health training. It’s about time. It's also way past time to stop the deadly stereotype.