By Payton Pruitt
On May 21, 2015 multiple protesters gathered together in seventeen different locations nationwide to protest the acts of police brutality against black women that had occurred in recent years. This action was done with work from the groups of BlackOUT Collective, and Black Lives Matter. Using the ever progressive approach of social media by spreading #SayHerName, as well as bearing their breasts and using body paint to send messages of their own, these groups brought attention to many of the women that had suffered at the hands of police brutality that had been overlooked by mainstream media, as well as protesting body shaming of black women, infant mortality, and the stigma of female masculinity.
Many of the names that were shown and spread in this protest were names such as Michelle Cusseaux, a 50 year old woman who was shot to death in what was supposed to be a trip to a mental facility in 2014; Rekia Boyd, a 22 year old woman shot to death by police in an alleyway in April of 2015; Yuvette Henderson, a 38 year old woman who was also shot to death by police in February of 2015; Yazmin Payne, a 33 year old trans woman who was stabbed to death by her boyfriend in February of 2015; and Aiyana Jones, a 7 year old girl who was shot to death by police in a raid in 2010.
This protest was nationwide to show support for the families who had lost their loved ones and to remind the media of the violence that had been taken against these black women in recent years that had been overlooked or pushed aside. The protest took place during the National Day of Action, as made by the Black Lives Matter group.
The protest was called in response to a report called “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality against Black Women” that was released by the African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies by Columbia University. Dr. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Director of the African American Policy Forum and co-author of the report wanted to publish the names of the women who have suffered at the hands of police in recent years and show what they have experienced in the same ways as their male counterparts, and ways that they have also not experienced.
What we know less about is how black women have experienced police brutality.” Crenshaw explained in an interview with Democracy Now! “And all during this time that we have been marching around police brutality there have been a steady number of women who have also been killed and we haven’t really known their names, we haven’t really understood their circumstances. So the report was basically an effort to literally lift up the names of people like Michelle Cusseaux, Rekia Boyd to recognize that black women experience police brutality in many of the same ways that black men do, and also in some ways that are different.”
She goes on to explain in the interview that while black men are killed more often than black women, it is important to understand that the stories of police brutality extend to women as well and that their names and experiences need to be added into consideration when making the demands to help stop police brutality against people of color.
The collective protesters got their wish, as their acts went viral across social media such as Twitter and Tumblr. BlackOUT gave near constant updates and tweets to their followers to show how the protest was progressing, mainly in San Francisco where their Oakland, California branch had blocked off the San Francisco financial district where women bared their breasts and wrote their own messages of protest against society and its racial bias against black women’s bodies, saying that they are not commodities and are not lesser for the color of their skin. They protested the shaming of darker skin and natural hair in modern beauty media, saying that there are women who struggle with their appearance because they are taught that white women are gorgeous.
With protests such as #SayHerName coming alongside the Ferguson and Boston riots, and the newly received information and attention about police brutality against the black community, it is clear that this generation is the generation of fighting for human rights. People are stepping forward to speak about the abuse of power that is held by white men over those of color, calling them out on their racism and wanting justice for the innocent lives that were lost. It seems that a human rights revolution is on the horizon for the new generation, and will hopefully succeed in turning the world on its head and bringing about true race equality in all aspects of life.