During “BLACKOUT Day” on Thursday, Presbyterians wear black to protest gender-based violence

Week of Action organizers suggest concrete steps Presbyterians can take to promote justice in their communities

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — This year marks the 100th year since the ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote.

To recognize this historic moment, a 14-foot-tall bronze monument will be erected in Central Park to honor three courageous and pioneering women: Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, all of whom were at the forefront of the national suffrage movement.

Both Stanton and Anthony strongly opposed the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which granted Black men the right to vote. Not only were the women opposed to Black men being given the right to vote, Stanton did not think that the privilege of voting should be extended to Black women. Black suffragists were often told to march at the back of protests.

However, Sojourner Truth, a former slave, not only fought against the institution of slavery but fought just as fiercely for Black women’s voices to be heard in the suffrage movement. And despite their differences of opinion on the voting rights of Black Americans, Truth worked with Anthony and Stanton to move forward.

It was Truth’s famous “Ain’t I AWoman?” speech delivered at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851, and published in the Anti-Slavery Bugle on June 21, 1851, that would draw attention to Black women’s plight.

For centuries the gentilities of womanhood have been withheld from Black women. Black women have been the victims of unimaginable violence and brutality. It has been more than 102 years since the barbaric death of Mary Turner. In 1918 Turner, whose husband had been murdered during a “lynching rampage” in Valdosta, Georgia, spoke out publicly against his killing and threatened to swear out arrest warrants for those responsible. To punish her for her “unwise remarks,” a lynch mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, poured gasoline on her and burned off her clothes. One member of the mob then cut her stomach open and her unborn child dropped to the ground where it was reportedly stomped on and crushed by a member of the mob. Her body was then riddled with gunfire from the mob.

Five months ago, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville, Kentucky, police in her apartment. On March 13, 2020, plainclothes police burst into Taylor’s apartment with a no-knock warrant. Fearing for their lives, Taylor’s boyfriend, thinking they were intruders, fired a shot. The police returned with a barrage of bullets, killing Taylor. The three Louisville Metro Police Department officers involved have not been charged.

Taylor’s death is perhaps the most visible and acknowledged death of any Black woman in this country and maybe in the world.

These are just two examples of the atrocities Black women have experienced for decades in the United States. Kimberlé Crenshaw, who in 1989 used the concept of “intersectionality” to describe the various ways in which race and gender interact to shape the multiple dimensions of Black women’s employment experiences, says that “many of the experiences Black women face are not subsumed within the traditional boundaries of race or gender discrimination as these boundaries are currently understood” and that “the intersection of racism and sexism factors into Black women’s lives in ways that cannot be captured wholly by looking at the race or gender dimensions of those experiences separately.”

On August 27, “BLACKOUT Day,”  Presbyterians across the country and around the world were urged to wear black in solidarity with both “Thursdays in Black” to protest gender-based violence and the struggle for Black lives as a part of the Presbyterian Week of Action. Throughout the day a series of social media posts were being delivered to raise the awareness of the plight of violence against women and particularly women of color.

Crenshaw, a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School and the executive director of the African American Policy Forum, says Black women have the highest rates of homicide in the country and adds that repeatedly the killing of Black women go unnoticed.

Crenshaw and the African American Policy Forum started the #SayHerName campaign to bring awareness to often invisible names of Black women who have been targets of law enforcement.

There is a litany of Black women who have been killed by law enforcement. Certainly, Breonna Taylor is not the first.

Black women have been killed for driving while Black. For example:

  • On July 10, 2015, 28-year-old Sandra Bland was pulled over in Waller County, Texas, for failing to signal a lane change, and, as a video of her arrest shows, was pinned to the ground and surrounded by police officers. Bland was heard questioning the officers about why they had slammed her head to the ground and complaining that she could not hear. Officers charged her with assault and held her in the Waller County Jail. Bland was found dead in her cell three days later. Bland had recently driven from suburban Chicago to Texas to begin a new job at her alma mater, Texas Prairie View A&M. Officials maintain that her death was a suicide, but Bland’s friends and family dispute that.
  • In 2015 in Atlanta, 26-year-old Alexia Christian was arrested for being inside a stolen car. Officers arrested Christian and placed her in the back seat of their patrol car. At some point they fatally shot her in the car, claiming later that she escaped from her handcuffs and shot at the officers with a stolen gun.
  • Mya Hall of Baltimore, a Black transgender woman, was also killed in 2015 by National Security Agency (NSA) police just weeks before Freddie Gray’s case garnered national headlines. Alleged to be driving a stolen car, she took a wrong turn onto NSA property and was shot to death by officers after the car crashed into the security gate and a police cruiser. No effort to use non-lethal force was made, even though there was no threat to the facility and no one in the vehicle was armed.
  • On June 4, 1999, LaTanya Haggerty of Chicago was shot by Chicago Police Officer Serena Daniels after the car in which she was a passenger failed to stop when police asked the driver to pull over. The officer claimed she thought Haggerty pulled a gun, but no weapon was found at the scene. The young computer analyst was speaking on her cell phone at the time she was gunned down.

Black women are also killed for being Black and poor. For example:

  • On May 21, 1999, in Los Angeles, Margaret LaVerne Mitchell, who was described by Amnesty International as “a frail, mentally ill homeless African American woman in her 50s,”was shot dead by an Los Angeles Police Department police officer on the streets where she lived. Mitchell was well known in the area, and local residents, who affectionately called her “Mom,” described her as sweet and harmless. Based on eyewitness accounts, officers stopped Mitchell as she was pushing a shopping cart down the street. When an eyewitness sought to intervene to protect her from police harassment, Mitchell walked away from the officers, who then shot her in the back. The officers later claimed that Mitchell — who was 54 years old, weighed 102 pounds, and stood 5 feet, 1 inch — lunged at them with a screwdriver, causing them to fear for their lives.
  • Eleanor Bumpurs, a 66-year-old grandmother, was killed on October 29, 1984, in the Bronx, New York City. Police arrived at her home in response to a city-ordered eviction notice. She was four months behind on her monthly rent of $98.65. When she refused to open the door for the police, the officers broke into her apartment. In the struggle to subdue her, an officer fatally shot Bumpurs twice with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Black women are also the victims of violent deaths for having mental health issues.

  • On May 7, 2014 in Hearne, Texas, Pearlie Golden, a 93-year-old woman, was fatally shot by a police officer after her nephew called to report that she was waving a gun. Her nephew said that Golden was upset because he had taken her car keys after she failed a driving test. When the officer saw the elderly woman waving the gun around, he fired 4-5 rounds at her, hitting her at least twice.
  • In Queens, New York City, on March 15, 2012, Shereese Francis’ family called for an ambulance after she became emotionally distraught following an argument with her mother. Francis was schizophrenic and at the time was not taking her medication. Four police officers arrived at their home and tried to convince Francis to go to the hospital, but she refused. The officers reported that she was uncooperative and that she lunged at them. In response, all four officers pinned her down and attempted to handcuff her. Francis stopped breathing during this altercation, and the hospital pronounced her dead shortly afterward. The coroner’s report concluded Francis had died due to the “compression of [her] trunk during agitated violent behavior.”

On Thursday, Presbyterians were encouraged to adopt the following practices recommended by the World Council of Churches:

  • Wear black.
  • Wear a pin to declare you are part of the global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence.
  • Show your respect for women who are resilient in the face of injustice and violence.
  • Encourage others to join

Additionally, Presbyterians are invited to:

  • Read the report and recommendations of the Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls Task Force being presented to the 225th General Assembly (2022) found here.
  • Advocate for Black women and girls by prioritizing the voices and writings of Black women and girls.
  • Donate to the Katie Cannon Scholarship.

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