Black Women are Leading the Movement to End Police ViolenceRoundup
tags: African American history, Police, Protest
Keisha N. Blain is an associate professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the multi-prize-winning book, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom.
The recent grand jury decision not to charge police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville brings into sharp focus the problem of police violence against Black women and girls. Similar to the experiences of far too many Black people, Taylor’s family has yet to receive any justice. Few police officers are charged for committing acts of violence — even fatal acts — against civilians.
But one thing is clear: The nation is paying close attention to what unfolds in this case. And that is because of the activism of Black women. Black women have taken the lead in finding alternate routes to obtain justice and achieve systemic change due to the inability of the criminal “justice” system to administer punishment in cases of police shootings.
Black women, including Taylor’s mother and sister, along with a network of writers and activists, built on this tradition of activism to bring national attention to the Taylor case. Despite the recent grand jury decision, Black female activists will continue to be at the forefront of a national movement to bring about tangible changes in American policing.
During the 20th century, Black female activists brought significant attention to the problem of police violence, often focusing specifically on the vulnerability of Black women. In a 1930 newspaper article, Madame Stephanie St. Clair — dubbed the “Numbers Queen” of Harlem — openly condemned the actions of corrupt police officers “who are supposed to be the protection of the people. ”
In November 1945, police officers shot and killed 14-year-old Harlem resident Wilbert Cohen. They claimed the teenager had been caught peeping through a window on East 119th Street. In the aftermath of the shooting, Cohen’s mother played an active role in raising awareness about the senseless act of police violence that took her son’s life. Black radical activist Audley “Queen Mother” Moore supported her efforts and at Cohen’s funeral publicly demanded justice for his family and police accountability in the city. Through these women’s efforts, the case garnered widespread coverage in the Black press and was cited in the 1951 United Nations petition “We Charge Genocide,” which more than 100 Black activists and intellectuals signed.
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