If you’ve been with me for a while you’ve already read my first blog in this series, Black Women: America’s Punching Bag. We covered a lot of territory but this one I felt needed its very own piece…. Why does OUR justice system continue to re-victimize us?
We’ve all seen the headlines with Felicity Huffman and her “trial” and “sentencing” for paying off someone to alter her daughters’ SAT scores in order to increase her chances of getting into college. (I believe there was much more to that story, but I’ll stick to the facts we know). She was sentenced to 14 days in jail, 1-year probation and 250 hrs. of community service. In a case where a black mother, Kelley Williams-Bolar, used her dad’s address to ensure her children were going to a better school, she received an initial 3-year sentence which was later reduced to 10 days. However, she also got 2 years’ probation and 80 hrs. of community service.
If you are unfamiliar with probation that means that during this time you are bound to a specific set of rules that IF you violate them and are caught, you could be rearrested and have to serve additional time in jail. You can imagine how much more likely it is for a person of color, specifically a black woman, to be arrested and possibly “reoffend” than her white counterpart, which would be a direct violation of probation.
Now do I think either case is right… maybe not. I do, however, take issue with jail time for someone that is simply trying to ensure the best possible education for their child. I put myself in the other parents’ shoes. How would I feel if my children’s’ schools were overcrowded by students who don’t live in the area? It’s already happening! The fix is to fix our education system so that there isn’t a “better” school than the ones that other children attend. I digress though…
During college I worked at a retail store, I will not name said store. There were always shoplifters at this store because it was very popular during that time and still is today. Our store manager would only have us “watch” the black women that came in the store until one day I did my own investigation and made it my mission to stop this white lady whom I knew was stealing but couldn’t ever catch her. Without fail when our sale was announced she was in the store within 48 hrs. I watched her with my own two eyes stuff her daughter’s stroller with over $500 worth of merchandise. She went into the bathroom with some items and cut off/burned off the security sensors. She was white.
I cannot count the number of times I personally have been followed in a store, especially if it’s a higher end type store; simply because I am black. Now my daughters are having to endure the same thing. It’s one of those unfair rites of passage that all black women will go through. I don’t care what your socioeconomic status is, if you are black and female; you will or have gotten followed in a store.
In a study by Georgetown Law, when surveyed about the differences between black girls and white girls of the same age:
- Black girls need less nurturing • Black girls need less protection • Black girls need to be supported less • Black girls need to be comforted less • Black girls are more independent • Black girls know more about adult topics • Black girls know more about sex.
If this is what every day citizens believe, what do you think the judges, lawyers, police officers think? Its systemic victimization of black girls/women. We are “strong” so we should be able to take whatever is thrown our way and truthfully, for the most part, we can and do. This doesn’t mean that the justice system should punish us more harshly than our white sisters.
From that same Georgetown Study:
Unfortunately, our unjust and unfair judgement begins to happen at a very young age.
Black girls/women whom are raped, abused, attacked, are less likely to receive justice and more likely to be put on trial as they are the antagonist, they are re-victimized in a lot of cases. Marissa Alexander is one of those people. If you are unfamiliar with Marissa’s story, I encourage you to read it here. As an overview, she was an abused and battered wife who was in the middle of yet another argument when she shot off a warning shot IN THE AIR to scare her estranged husband off. Marissa was put on trial like she was a felon even though she could have but didn’t aim the gun at her ex. Marissa is an educated woman and had NEVER been in trouble with the law before.
She attempted self-defense immunity prior to going to trial but it was rejected. She was then offered a plea deal which she denied as well. When she went to trial, she was convicted under Florida law to the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. She killed no one, injured no one, and didn’t have a prior record. Meanwhile, George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, a young black man, in cold blood because he “looked” dangerous and suspicious; at night, in the dark, with his hoodie on eating Skittles. Total threat. (I sure hope you can sense the insane amount of sarcasm in that last statement.) Marissa was later granted an appeal and was released from prison after serving 3 years.
In a world where people of color are incarcerated at exponentially higher rates than whites, I’ve always wondered why. Why is the mere color of our skin such a “trigger” for people? We’ve often walked that line where people are either scared of us or intimidated by us.
And let me be clear, I’m not saying black women are perfect and shouldn’t be punished by law if we do commit some sort of crime. What I am saying is, give us the same benefit of the doubt as you would a white woman. I’m saying that when we are molested or raped, just because our bodies are curvy, and we have enticing ways of moving on the dance floor; we didn’t invite that person to violate us. The problem is not us…. Its them. We cannot continue to be victimized or made feel ashamed of the very things that white America loves to hate about us, our skin tone and our bodies.
Simply put: love us or leave us alone… Or can this be fixed?
You may be thinking, “Ok, Trese you have outlined the problems but what are the solutions?” I dont know, but here are some of my thoughts:
- We cannot let white America divide our issues as black women from our black men. Meaning, black men and women have MANY of the same issues. If we are to progress in anything black men and black women must be on the same page, united. Period.
- Even when we do #1, we STILL have to acknowledge Intersectionality – What is that you ask? Well, it is a very real concept developed and coined by civil rights activist & law professor Kimberle’ Crenshaw. In a 2016 Ted Talk, she does a great job of explaining that there is an issue with people recognizing that black women are just as impacted by violence as black men. That our discrimination is different than that of black men & white women, its a double whammy, if you will. Its unique.
- As someone who has a few white women as friends, this is a little uncomfortable to write but it’s my truth. White women cannot solve our issues. The original suffrage movement/feminist movement was not for black women. I have spoken on this before if you are familiar with my writing so I won’t dig too deep into this again but understand, we have to change the narrative for ourselves.
- Nothing will change without wealth. As I stated at the beginning, rich & white seems to be acceptable and right. Rich white people control this country. We, as blacks, have less than 1% of the total wealth in this country. It begins with supporting black businesses, creating our own businesses, attending HBCU’s and begin to create this perceived generational wealth we believe we can attain. We cannot do that, NOT supporting black business and infrastructure. Also, we need to have a serious conversation about reparations (oh I know many people disagree with this) but many other races that were subjected to American injustices have received reparations, why shouldn’t African Americans?
- With the wealth, we can then ensure we have more judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police officers, etc. that are black. This will help level the playing field when black men & women are arrested and charged with varying degrees of crimes. We also need to make sure our juries are actually “a jury of our peers”. My peers are not old white men & women, sorry not sorry.
- Vote. Vote not for a candidate who is black, but vote for someone that truly has attainable and realistic goals for black people specifically.
As Kimbele’ Crenshaw reminds us in her Ted Talk, we MUST continue to say the names of the MANY black women who have been victims of OUR ineffective justice system.
Michelle Cusseaux. Aura Rosser. Tanisha Anderson. Mya Hall. Natasha McKenna, Marissa Alexander. Kelly Williams-Bolar. Redel Jones. Miriam Carey. These are just a few. #sayhername
What are your thoughts on the justice system as it pertains to black women? Do you agree with my assessment or think that I am far off? Let’s discuss!