Protesters in cities across the country staged various actions over the course of two days this week in order to bring attention to state violence inflicted upon black women, stories often ignored by the media and even by other #BlackLivesMatter protests.
The first day of action was on May 20 in New York City. On that day, hundreds of protesters gathered in Union Square at around 5:30 p.m. bearing signs with the names of women killed by police for a vigil. The family members of Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseux, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore and Alberta Spruill — all black women killed by police — also attended the vigil and shared stories of how their loved ones were killed by state violence.
“#SayHerName was the hashtag, and it was part of a greater movement to raise the stories of black women and girls who are being killed because we’re not hearing those stories presently in the media,” said Delaine Powerful of the Black Youth Project 100, one of the groups that organized the actions. “All we’re hearing when we say ‘black lives matter’ are black straight males, but we’re not hearing about our black women, our black sisters, our black queer women, our black trans women.”
The vigil was called in response to a report called “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women” released by the African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia University. The report documents the various forms of police violence inflicted on black women and calls for a “gender inclusive movement to end state violence.”
“So we really wanted to create a space where we could uplift and hear their stories,” Powerful said, “and declare that black women face the same amount of police violence that black men do, as well, and also in different ways.”
A “National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls” was called for the next day, May 21, two months after a Chicago police officer was acquitted for his off-duty shooting of Rekia Boyd. Protests and vigils were held in over 20 cities including Chicago, Columbus, Seattle, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Miami.
One of the more stand-out actions happened in San Francisco where, among hundreds of protesters out in the Financial District, about a dozen women blocked traffic on Market Street during the morning. In addition to blocking traffic, the protesters were also topless, wearing colorful turbans, and covered in body paint reminiscent of some African tribes.
“We wanted to be able to say ‘enough is enough’ and draw on traditions from Nigeria, Gabon, Uganda, and South Africa, from women who bare their chests and other parts of their bodies in protest,” Chinerye Tutashinda, a founding member of the BlackOUT Collective, told BuzzFeed News.
Along with honoring African traditions, the protesters went topless in order to also bring attention to the fact that society tends to focus on black women’s physical bodies except when those bodies are victims of violence. They also wanted to let women reclaim their bodies in a public space. Feedback from onlookers was overwhelmingly positive, and at one point, black women on their way to work spotted the protest and walked over to hug, cry and thank the protesters.
In New York City, protesters led a funeral procession, complete with a coffin, from the African Burial Ground National Monument to City Hall, while saying the names of black women killed by police.
Once outside City Hall, they joined a #NoNewNYPD rally to say no to Commissioner Bill Bratton’s request to the City Council for 1,000 new police officers. Citing stories of black cisgender and transgender women killed by the New York Police Department, such as Shantel Davis, Islan Nettles, and Kyam Livingston, the protesters demanded that the City Council not add new cops to the streets. Some of the #NoNewNYPD protesters were later kicked out of a City Council hearing after heckling Bratton as he spoke to the Public Safety Committee and the Finance Committee about the NYPD’s budget.
Protesters also held a rally in Flatbush Brooklyn for Kyam Livingston, a 37-year-old woman who died in police custody in 2013, which was organized by Livingston’s mother, Anita Neal. During the rally, a memorial for Livingston was set up on the corner of East 18th Street and Church Avenue, and Neal, while sobbing, promised that she’d never stop her monthly protests in Brooklyn until she got justice for her daughter.
Yet, during the Kyam Livingston rally, many of the mostly male speakers focused on the class issues and police violence affecting men. Whenever this happened, a group of young, black women would remind people to keep their speeches focused on Kyam Livingston’s story and state violence faced by black women and, more importantly, to allow black women to tell their own stories on the mic.
“We want there to be no need for these protests. We want the police to stop killing our people,” Powerful said. “But we’re hoping that when we’re having these marches and these protests that we’re allowing people into these spaces to speak. We’re allowing black women into this space to not be so erased and for their stories to be heard.”