Melissa: That's composer and soloists Alicia Lee leading the chorus of the University of Michigan in a piece that captures the agonizing reality of deadly state violence against Black women like Brianna Taylor. State violence against Black women, femme and queer folk is rarely at the center of mass mobilization and media attention. That's despite the fact that Black women are overrepresented among the people shot and killed by the police and the reality that transgender people are more than three times as likely to experience police violence as cisgender people.
With me now is Andrea Ritchie, co-founder of Interrupting Criminalization, an initiative that aims to end the criminalization of women and LGBTQ people of color. She's also author of Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color. Great to have you back on the show Andrea.
Andrea Ritchie: Good to be back in conversation with you, Melissa.
Melissa: Let's talk for a moment about Brianna Taylor, and the ways that there was a twin mobilization around George Floyd and Brianna Taylor, but very little sense that there has been any justice done in the case for Brianna.
Andrea Ritchie: Yes, unfortunately, one thing that you and I have been in conversation about these issues for many years. I think Brianna Taylor's case brought more visibility than I've seen in 30 years of organizing around Black woman's experiences of police violence, to our experiences of police violence. Unfortunately, visibility is just the starting point, it can't be the end game and we haven't made progress towards a world where Brianna would still be with us.
That would be a world where we would need to end the war on drugs that killed her not just one particular form of rage that isn't even going to be stopped by the laws that have been passed. I think the lesson is more and more people are aware that Black women are the group most likely to be killed by police when unarmed of any group but we haven't yet taken the action needed to stop that from being the case, to stop the killings from happening in the first place.
Also, to pay attention to the other forms of violence that Black women and girls experienced at the hands of police, such as sexual violence. For instance, the officer who killed Briana Taylor had engaged in multiple times beforehand and perhaps if we had paid more attention to that Briana would still be with us today, there was a young Black woman Zoya Code, who was also choked by Derek Chauvin several years before he murdered George Floyd in the context of a call for help.
If we had paid more attention to her case, perhaps we would be in a different position as well. I think we really need to move beyond visibility to action that's really informed by Black women and girls, and Trans and Queer people's experiences of police violence.
Melissa: What are some of the reasons that we don't pay attention?
Andrea Ritchie: I think the basic reason is that this country in our society is built on violence against Black women, girls, Queer and Trans people. It's inherently and intentionally and physicalized as a result. The other piece of it is that Black women, girls, and Trans people often experience police violence in the context of calls for help and that produces discomfort when police legitimize their existence around the fact that they're needed to respond to calls for help.
In other words, if the vast majority of police violence against Black women and girls takes place in the context that police used to legitimize their existence, then that's going to produce an uncomfortable silence. Including among the organizations that we would hope would call attention to violence against Black women and girls, because the anti-violence movement has so deeply invested in law enforcement as the response to gender-based violence, sexual violence.
We've seen that in the context of me too, so sort of re-upped. I think that Black women and girls and Trans people's experiences of police violence really put into question our whole society's reliance on cops to stop violence given that they perpetrate violence in the context of responding to violence.
Melissa: I want you to put that down where the goats can get it. When you say calls for help, and the idea that we're asking police to respond to help around violence and violence occurs. You don't even have to give names, although you certainly can, give me an example of what that looks like, how a Black woman or trans person has been harmed by police when they called police to help?
Andrea Ritchie: I think the first time that comes to mind is a Tatyana Jefferson killed by police on a welfare check, because a neighbor was concerned for her safety, and the police response was killing her. I think of Kayla Moore, a Black Trans woman who was experiencing or was thought to be experiencing a mental health crisis, who was suffocated to death by eight police officers piled on top of her, instead of rendering her the assistance that she needed.
I think of Kiwi Herring, a Black Trans woman who came into contact with police because of tremendous homophobic and transphobic violence she was experiencing in her home in the morning, she was killed by police, her neighbor had set fire to her porch. She was the one who was killed in the context of the call for help. I think of Ora Rosser who was killed during a domestic violence call or [unintelligible 00:05:56], who was also killed during a domestic violence call.
Those are just the stories of killings. I haven't mentioned stories like Tijuanda Moore is a Black woman who called for help because she was experiencing domestic violence, and instead was sexually assaulted by the police officer who responded. Or the stories of the women who call the cops or go in to report sexual assault only to be sexually assaulted by the cops they're reporting it to.
There are so many cases. This is part of what's invisible, about women's experiences of police violence is it does take place on the streets in public view, in the ways that it did for George Floyd, for instance. Frankie Perkins is a Black woman who was choked to death in public on the streets of Chicago, in full view, on the assumption that she had swallowed drugs.
There's definitely the cases that happen in very similar ways to what we see publicly in terms of Black men's experiences but many Black women and queer and trans people's experiences of police violence happen in the home, in private places, in the context of calls for help. I think the reason that we don't talk about it is because as a society we have deemed that law enforcement is what we've invested in as the response to domestic violence.
As the response to sexual assault, as a response to homophobic and transphobic violence so when those responses are sites of violence, then it puts into question our approach to public safety wholesale. I think that's part of the reason that people don't want to talk about it because it really requires us to rethink how we approach public safety and whether policing in fact is producing it or is producing more violence.
That reality is played out in how survivors approach policing. Almost half of survivors of domestic violence and two-thirds of survivors of sexual assault never call police for help. Part of the reason is because they're worried about experiencing harm, criminalization, or not getting the help or protection, or prevention they need. Our current approach is leaving the majority of survivors behind and unprotected and that's another thing that our experiences of policing surfaces and reveals and puts into question.
Melissa: Andrea Ritchie is a co-founder of Interrupting criminalization, and author of Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color. Thanks so much for joining us, Andrea.
Andrea Ritchie: Thanks so much for having me, Melissa.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.