“In the past and the present no woman has been more raped, abused and humiliated than the black woman.” These are the words that William Reis, 27, of Rio de Janeiro spoke last year about Brazilian women. However, his statement also applies to black American women, as evidenced by the recent conviction of a former Oklahoma police officer on 18 of 36 counts, including rape, sexual battery, lewd exhibitions and forcible oral sodomy. The victims were 13 African-American women in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Oklahoma.
“The conditions of black people in America are as diverse as the conditions of the African diaspora,” says Charlene Carruthers, national director of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100). “The tie that binds us is the reality that our bodies are constantly at risk of being violated by state-supported actors and systems.”
Unsurprisingly, the Oklahoma case reminds me of my own vulnerability and outrage when, as a police beat reporter in a small Michigan city, I dealt with a group of lewd, white members of law enforcement. As usual, I arrived at the precinct at 6:30 a.m. I went to the same designated office and began reading the reports. Eventually, the next room filled with rowdy cops. One man loudly said, “What happened out there?” Another cop bellowed, “Oh, black woman.” Next, he began grunting. Another cop shouted, “Oh, black woman walking down the street.” He grunted several times. Another white officer said, “Oh, black woman getting off the bus.” Another round of grunting. Another cop shouted, “Oh, black woman walking to work.” Another serenade of grunting. Finally, the old police officer, who was always hostile to me, strolled into the other room. In a loud voice he said, “Someone can hear you.” I thought, “Someone was meant to hear you.”
Did I complain? To whom would I complain? Imagine me reporting the police to the police. Should I have taken my objection to the white male newspaper editor? An absurd idea. One day, I overheard him talking about hiring a black male reporter. He said, “No. If you have two of them, ‘they might play together.’ He would probably get her knocked up.”
These incidents are reminiscent of a time described by Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D. in Why Blacks Kill Blacks. “The master openly attacked and raped black women in the fields,” Dr. Poussaint said. “Non-blacks have always projected their sexual fantasies onto African-Americans.”
“Where is the national outcry,” said Attorney Benjamin Crump in criticizing the national media’s lack of attention to the Oklahoma rape trial. Obviously, the rape, murder or disappearance of African-American women is overlooked. None of the women’s rights groups, who generally come to rape trials to support white victims, showed up for the black victims. “Although black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality,” says Kimberle Crenshaw, founder and director of the African-American Policy Forum (AAPF).
However, black women, including the activist group OKC Artists for Justice, spearheaded online and on-the-ground organizing to mobilize action around the case. The group held a rally, which brought attention to their hashtag, #BlackWomenMatter.
On the other hand, we are all responsible for ending the violence against black women. We must focus media attention on the safety of our community. According to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, in the United States, a black person is killed by a police officer, security officer, or self-appointed vigilante every 28 hours.
Veronica Maria Brown-Comegys is a former newspaper reporter. In addition, she has written freelance articles about sexism and racism in Brazil. She is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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