There is no mistake in saying that black men in the United States are unfairly and disproportionately affected by the law enforcement and justice systems in the country. It’s true. Black–and, at different rates, other racial and ethnic minority–males are incarcerated at about five and a half times the rate white men are, despite committing similar crimes at similar rates. Young, unarmed men like Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown are targeted and killed by white civilians as well as police officers far too often and with far fewer repercussions for the mistreatment of this population to go ignored.
There is a huge mistake being made in neglecting to include anyone but men in the discourse about and even in the outrage over the systemic racism of these institutions.
Going by incarceration rates alone, whereas black men are incarcerated at five and a half times the rate as white men are, black women are, on any given day, in jail or in prison at a full six times the rate as are white women. There have been urges circulating recently for the public and the media to not forget about the murder of Mike Brown and the atrocities carried out against protesters in Ferguson, Miss., and certainly this respect and action in his honor should continue. But shouldn’t the same respect, action, and remembrance be afforded to Tarika Wilson, who in 2008 was shot and killed by police in her Lima, Ohio living room while holding her one-year-old baby and while her four other children looked on? The same question stands for seven-year-old Aiyana Jones in Detroit, 30-year-old (and schizophrenic) Shereese Francis in Queens, and the countless other unarmed, and in many cases innocent, black women who have been killed by police officers (“countless,” because the inability to find resources quantifying the number of black women killed by police speaks volumes in itself).
Black women are targeted and profiled by police in all the same ways their male counterparts are, and then some. In a recent and high-profile instance, actress Daniele Williams (Djanjo Unchained) alleges to have been arrested and detained by Los Angeles police on accusations of prostitution, when she and her (white) partner, celebrity chef Brian Lucas, were kissing in public.
Practices such as the “stop and frisk” measures carried out by the New York Police Department have noticeably affected, often wrongly and unjustly, members of minority groups, and that doesn’t stop at race or gender. As former NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous reminds us, in his preface to Columbia Law’s Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living with HIV, that “‘stop and frisk was not only a ‘black issue,’” not just a question of racial profiling, but also of mistreatment beyond that, especially of LGBTQI community members. Writes Jealous:
…I stood with a coalition of civil rights leaders, labor and LGBT leaders joined together at New York City’s iconic Stonewall Inn for a press conference. We gathered to condemn Mayor Bloomberg’s support of unconstitutional racial profiling in the context of the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” practices, which exploded since he took office.
Some people were confused. Why were advocates for LGBT rights taking the time to speak about a ‘black issue’?
The answer was simple: stop and frisk was not only a ‘black issue.’ New York City police officers were also targeting people because they were LGBT, specifically LGBT youth. Moreover, some people, like my brother, are both black and LGBT, experiencing both similar and specific profiling depending on how they are perceived. For black LGBT people this is not so much an issue of solidarity between communities as it is one of survival at their intersections.
When the media talk about law enforcement targeting black people, it would make sense that they would be referring to all black people, but more often than not we find that this all-encompassing term excludes the intersection of black identity with other identities.
Writers and activists have acknowledged that in the broad discourse about police brutality against minorities, the emphasis tends to stay on men. Without disqualifying the absolute, urgent need for discussion about and action against the unwarranted fear and mistreatment of young, black men that is still so prevalent in society, Kristen West Savali points out, “Power and dominance is typically contextualized within the construct of cisgender masculinity, leaving the brutalization of Black women, even when it mirrors that of Black men, as an afterthought.”
The same point must be made and taken seriously for non-cisgender, non-heterosexual black men and women–for every single person of every identity or intersection of identities.