For Stephanie, Shaneka and Kristy: We Need to Address Violence Against Black Women

by Michelle Denise Jackson

Within the last month, I have learned of three cases of Black women who were murdered by romantic partners who then went on to kill themselves.

On Monday, Dec. 8th, Stephanie Moseley was shot and killed by her husband, Earl Hayes, before he turned the gun on himself in a murder-suicide in Los Angeles. Moseley was a talented dancer and choreographer, who had recently starred on VH1’s Hit the Floor, in addition to being a backup dancer for many of pop music’s biggest stars. Hayes was a rapper who had been signed to boxer Floyd Mayweather’s record label. It was reported that Hayes was Facetiming with Mayweather at the time he murdered his wife and killed himself.
Why did Earl Hayes kill Stephanie Moseley? Because he thought she was having an extramarital affair with the R&B singer Trey Songz. It should be noted that Hayes had a history of domestic violence, and even wrote about murder-suicide in a 2010 song he recorded for a mixtape.

On Saturday, Dec. 20th, Shaneka Thompson was shot by her boyfriend, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, before he traveled to New York and killed NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn before he ultimately killed himself in a subway station. Early news coverage mistakenly reported that Thompson had been killed by Brinsley, but it was later revealed that she was in critical condition at a Baltimore hospital. She is expected to fully recover from her injuries.

Why did Ismaaiyl Brinsley shoot Shaneka Thompson? It is still unclear, but much attention has been paid to Brinsley’s mental instability, troubled past, and the possible political motivations of the cop killings.

On Monday, Dec. 22nd, activist, blogger, and cultural critic Feminista Jones sent out a series of tweets focusing on the murder of Kristy Flowers, a law student in Arlington, VA. Flowers was killed by her boyfriend, Ray Savoy, before he eventually killed himself. There are very few news stories about Flowers’ murder or what motivated Savoy to kill her before he took his own life. (Records suggest he may have had a history of domestic violence.) But family members reported that Flowers and Savoy were a happy couple, despite thinking something was ‘off’ about Savoy, due to how fast his relationship with Flowers progressed.

When I learned about the shootings of Stephanie, Shaneka, and Kristy, my first thought was, “This is why we need to have discussions around domestic violence when we talk about violence committed against Black bodies.” So often, we disassociate the two. And by disassociating them, we prioritize them. But violence—all types of violence—is so intrinsically and systemically linked, we only hurt ourselves when we do this.

This year has been plagued by violence for all Black people. There have been the controversial police shootings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice (only a few cases of the dozens of police shootings or killings of black men, women, or children). There have been the high profile stories of Black male celebrities like Ray Rice and Bill Cosby being abusers of women. And still, there have been the underreported killings of Black trans* and queer women like Mia Henderson and Dashawnda Sanchez.

Violence within the national Black community has happened across genders, localities, backgrounds, and intersectionalities. The hashtag #ICantBreathe is no hyperbole; it is a timely and necessary dirge, a siren for the era we live in. Black people in the United States literally cannot breathe because we are being killed.

And still, when we talk about the violence committed against black bodies, many of us focus on Black men and boys. Recently, there have been criticisms of how the hashtag-cum-movement #BlackLivesMatter has all but ignored the ways in which the term could be applied intersectionally—despite its creation by three Black women, two of whom identify as queer. Although the term was created in the wake of George Zimmerman’s 2013 acquittal for killing Trayvon Martin and gained traction in the wake of Brown’s death in Ferguson this summer, it hurts that so many believe this term should only center Black men whose lives have been snuffed out extrajudicially.

This erasure, whether intentional or not, is beyond hurtful. It is insulting.

It hurts that when Black women are brutalized, violated, and killed in America (in any way), we are ignored. It hurts that when Black women try to speak up against those voices and forces that aim to silence us, we are attacked and vilified, let alone accused of being “selfish.” (How can one be selfish, when all one is doing is fighting to survive?) It hurts that when Black women are honest and critical about the ways in which Black men can often be the ones who harm us—emotionally, physically, psychologically—we are told that we are insensitive or betrayers.

Stephanie and Kristy were murdered by Black men. Shaneka was shot by her boyfriend, a Black man. Janay Rice was brutally assaulted by her husband Ray Rice, a Black man. Mary “Unique” Spears was murdered when she denied the advances of Mark Dorch, also a Black man. Countless Black women whose names we do not know—whether cis, trans*, or queer—have been victimized by Black men this year. Many of these men were most likely romantic or sexual partners, or hoped to be. Acknowledging this fact does not mean we love Black men less. Acknowledging this fact does not mean we paint all Black men as perpetrators or abusers. Acknowledging the ways Black men can and do harm us does not mean we cannot also mourn when they are exterminated, when they are also victimized.

But if we are going to do this liberation work, we have to be honest with ourselves. We have to examine unflinchingly all the ways that violence is committed against all Black bodies—including the ways that Black men commit violence against us. We must have open and honest discussions about domestic violence, sexual violence, and misogynoir. We have to accept that the same white supremacist system that suffocates (literally) Black men also suffocates Black women; and not only that, but we also have to investigate the ways we internalize this system and allow it to dictate to us how and when we prioritize and give value to Black lives and Black issues.
Black death breaks my heart. Period. Centuries of Black death lives in my blood, in all of our blood. This is a legacy our people do not deserve. And so, it should go without saying that these Black boys and men’s deaths break my heart. But also, Black women’s deaths break my heart too. And it seems that Black men need a reminder that our deaths should also break their hearts. You would think our deaths would break their hearts so much, they would want to stop causing them.

You would think that with all this death and all this violence haunting us, we’d find a collective way to banish our ghosts from the inside out, while still honoring the lives of the women (and men) who did not deserve for their stories to end this way.

Photo credits: Twitter, Facebook

Michelle Denise Jackson is an editorial assistant at For Harriet. A graduate of NYU's Gallatin School, she is also a writer, storyteller, and performer from Southern California. She is currently the co-creator and co-producer of the web series, “GIRL, GET YO’ LIFE!” For more information, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter (@MichelleJigga).

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