On Jul. 13, 2020 rapper Megan Thee Stallion was seen limping out of her car, leaving a trail of blood under her feet after police officers ordered her to exit the vehicle. While we would later find out that the singer was shot by Tory Lanez, another rapper and passenger in the car, Megan initially told the police that she had simply stepped on broken glass. When the WAP star revealed to the world that Lanez was the cause of her injury, her statement stirred controversy. Her Instagram and Twitter accounts were flooded with memes mocking her injury as well as comments about how she was betraying the Black community for trying to get Lanez arrested. What’s particularly interesting about Megan’s most vocal critics was that they were mostly people in the Black community.
Within our race, there is a history of police brutality that affects us. I remember I was always cautioned to never call the cops on perpetrators of crime because it was a part of my role in the community to protect them, even when I was a victim. This rhetoric of protection mainly applies to Black men who are the main focus in the Black Lives Matter movement, which seeks to end the narrative of the absent father and curb the mass incarnation rate associated with the men in our race. But being a Black woman myself and watching all of the drama unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder about the relationship Black women have with our justice system. Who would protect us when we are victims of violence? Is it even worth it to trust a justice system that has countless times failed my community? To understand more, I interviewed University African American Studies and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Professor Kaisha Esty.
Shondrah Nash, author of “Through Black Eyes: African American Women’s Construction of Their Experiences With Intimate Male Partner Violence” concluded that despite being the most at risk for domestic violence, Black women are also the least likely to reach out to social services for help. When I asked Esty why Black women have this reluctance to call law enforcement on Black men, she spoke to a distrust of law enforcement among Black communities due to state-sanctioned violence.
“State-sanctioned violence against Black men as well as Black women—both historical and present—means that Black communities often exercise caution before appealing to the state for redress or protection,” Esty said.
This is consistent with Megan’s reason why she lied to the cops about her injury initially. In an Instagram live video, Megan admitted she lied and said Lanez didn’t have a gun because everyone in the car was Black and this was during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests against police violence and brutality.
While some Black people showed support in her Instagram live video, there was a sizable portion of Black people who called Megan a “snitch” and a “sell-out” for reporting her attacker.
The same feeling of needing to be the “protector” of my race has held me back from reporting crimes. When I was in high school, a male classmate stole my phone, and when I threatened to call the police when no one spoke up about who took my phone, I was bombarded with comments about how I was a traitor. Meanwhile, no one condemned the thief. So I wonder, what would have happened if I had actually called the cops? I’m sure I would’ve gotten my phone back, but would I have faced any backlash from my community?
Esty and I continued on in our conversation about Black women’s relationship with the state.
“We might think of African American women’s experiences of violence and their pursuit of justice as part of a long fraught relationship between Black women and the state,” Esty said. “Where they are appealing to the state for justice, but they have a clear understanding of a state that hasn’t fully seen them as women or deserving of protection.”
This is what happened to Destiny Harrison, a Black woman, and owner of “Madame D Beauty Bar” hair salon, who bravely named the thieves who stole $3,000 worth of hair extensions from her salon. She knew that there could be retaliation, and even told the police she feared for her life. Sadly, law enforcement failed to protect her.
Less than two weeks later Harrison was found dead in her salon with a bullet in her head alongside her 1-year-old daughter. Harrison knew she would be targeted for reporting on the people who robbed her because of this “no-snitching” solidarity in the Black community. Instead of the police taking precautions to protect her, Harrison was killed. The blame should be put on her murderers, but when she needed the most protection, the system that was supposed to protect had failed her. I wonder, did the police not take the threat to her safety seriously? According to Etsy, Black women’s relationship with our justice system is sadly not a new development.
“We might think of African American women’s experiences of violence and their pursuit of justice as part of a long fraught relationship between Black women and the state,” Esty said.“Where they are appealing to the state for justice, but they have a clear understanding of a state that hasn’t fully seen them as women or deserving of protection.”
When Black women are attacked by people outside of our race, the justice system also fails us, as in the Breonna Taylor case. Breonna was sleeping in her apartment when plainclothes police officers without body cameras on raided her home. The warrant in question targeted another individual, who had already been detained by the time police entered Taylor’s home. Breonna’s boyfriend, a licensed firearm carrier, fired a shot in self-defense believing the officers were intruders, hitting one officer in the leg. The Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) insists that the officers knocked several times and announced their presence as police. The lawsuit contends that multiple neighbors delivered statements contradicting this claim. Police ultimately fired eight shots, killing Taylor. There was insurmountable evidence against the officers that showed they were in the wrong. In the aftermath, Breonna’s family received $12 million in a wrongful death lawsuit, the largest amount Kentucky has ever awarded. However, a grand jury failed to charge two of the three officers for Breonna’s death and only charged one officer because of his bullet hitting someone else’s property. After the case, the jurors spoke out and admitted that they weren’t even told that they could’ve charged Breonna’s murderers with homicide. This is just another example of how the justice system has failed to protect Black women.
“The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman,” Malcolm X said. “The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
Black women are in the unique position of suffering from racism and sexism from both within and outside of our race. With my own experience with being a victim of a crime, there is a continuous thread of not being protected. Black women are in a constant struggle with balancing the burden of protecting our Black men and keeping them away from law enforcement. So much so, that even if we wanted to report crimes that they have committed we would face ostracization from our community and possibly wouldn’t receive help from the system meant to protect us. So when Black women are victims of violence, there is a catch-22 dilemma to either report the incident or let their perpetrator free. What should we do to help remedy the situation?
Black women and our relationship with the justice system is tied to a larger issue of police violence against the Black community. So to solve Black women’s hesitance with reaching out to police and the backlash they would face from inviting these law enforcement officers would be to fix the justice system itself. The Black Lives Matter movement has proposed defunding the police, or the system of anti-Blackness within it. Defunding the police would also mean diverting funds that perpetuate a system of racism, to fund education, housing, and job opportunities as well as changing the way our system handles crime from punitive measures to reformative justice. Defunding the police would mean that the threat to mass incarceration and violence against our race would diminish, which would in turn make Black women feel safer with reaching out when they are victims of violence.
Shaniya Longino can be reached at email@example.com