Who We March For: How the Movement is Failing Black Women

by Aisha Davis

In March 2012, Rekia Boyd was killed by off-duty Chicago police officer Dante Servin. Officer Servin thought that Rekia and her friends were being too loud while they walked to a store. After exchanging words, Officer Servin shot over his shoulder, hitting Rekia in the back of the head.

Rekia was unarmed. Rekia died at the hands of a law enforcement agent. Rekia was Black. These three facts sound all too familiar to Black Americans, who have heard countless stories of police harassment, violence, and murders.

However, Rekia was also a woman.

By being a woman, Rekia possessed a quality that differentiated her killing from the deaths of Black boys and men. Trayvon Martin, who was killed the month prior, and the subsequent killings of Black men at the hands of law enforcement, garner more media attention and a stronger response from activists.

This is not to say that no grieves for us. There are some groups and media outlets who focus on Black women and our lives. By amplifying the stories of Black women who suffer violence at the hands of both law enforcement and civilians, they do what the 24-hour mainstream news cycle does not. But if you do not look for these Black women centered sources, you oftentimes will not see the same discussion and consideration of our lives. For example, if you search Google News for “Rekia Boyd,” there are about 273,000 results in 0.57 seconds. For “Trayvon Martin,” 8,090,000 in 0.29 seconds. For “Michael Brown,” 1,360,000,000 in 0.42 seconds.

Stated plainly: to the public at large, our lives do not rank as highly or command as much attention as the lives of our brothers, sons, and fathers. There were modest protests in Chicago and New York following Officer Servin’s acquittal. These were nothing compared to the marches planned around the deaths of Black men and boys. Last December, Al Sharpton threw his name behind the Justice for All March in Washington, DC where thousands of people turned out, including family members of Black men and boys who were killed by the police. Even more tremendous were the tens of thousands of people who shut down New York City during the Millions March last November.

To paraphrase Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, Black women still live in a world where all the women are white and all the Blacks are men. This is exemplified in the demand for intersectional feminism and the lack of rallying around Black women when we work on racial justice. Today, at a time when we have a sustained movement that asserts the humanity of Black lives, we have yet to show up for Black women.

Why don’t we march en masse for our sisters, mothers, and daughters? Are we so blinded by the overwhelming narrative of Black men and boys' suffering that, even when we are shot in the head by police officers, our deaths do not matter as much because Black women are thought to be “doing better” than Black men? Do we still believe this, even when there are reports and statistics showing that we, too, are disproportionately overrepresented in prison, overpunished in schools, and killed by the police? Do we need the media to tell us that Black women are doing worse than Black men before we begin seeing marches planned in our names? And, most importantly, do we actually believe that #BlackLivesMatter?

When we show up and speak out for our men, we should be proclaiming our women’s names as well. It was an injustice when Trayvon Martin was killed. It was an injustice when Rekia Boyd was killed. It was an injustice when Michael Brown was killed. It was an injustice when Aiyana Jones was killed. We have the momentum and the passion; we just haven’t put it behind our women.

This is not because we are not on the front lines. On the contrary, Black women created #BlackLivesMatter. Black women created the Millions March NYC. Black women are all throughout the movement, but we still aren’t seeing the same responses to our pain that we see for our brothers. Without standing up for all Black lives, the #BlackLivesMatter movement lacks the courage of its convictions.

If we truly demand change and respect for Black lives, we must honor and respect the lives of all Black people. This includes Black women and girls slain by police officers, like Rekia Boyd, Yvette Smith, Tarika Wilson, and many more. This includes Black trans women, at least six of whom have been killed this year, and at least a dozen of whom were killed last year. This means that we must take to the streets and organize, we must demand justice and protest, and we must remember their names.

Photo: Rekia Boyd 

Aisha N. Davis, Esq. is an attorney focusing on human and civil rights both domestically and internationally, and with an eye toward intersectionality. She is also a regular contributor at For Harriet.

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