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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Deborah Bailey
June 10, 2016
At first, I thought it was my imagination. A year ago this month, I turned on my television and saw the image of a Texas police officer slamming unarmed, 14 year-old Dajerria Becton to the ground in her two-piece swimming suit and then kneeling on her bare back. The incident was in response to a pool party where police were called to intervene in McKinney, Texas. I watched in disbelief and struggled to imagine any possible behavior that would cause an adult authority figure to slam a 14- year-old girl to the ground and restrain her bare body on the concrete.
Just one month later, 28-year old Sandra Bland, another African-American woman, was found hanging from her jail cell in Waller County, Texas, three days after being pulled over and jailed for a minor traffic violation. Brian Encinia, the officer who pulled Bland over for failing to display a turn signal, wrested her to the ground during the arrest. When Bland initially refused to leave her vehicle, Officer Encina is heard yelling at Bland and saying” “I will light you up! Get out! Now! “as he aimed his Taser at her.
There is something disturbing when a citizenry allows women to be wrested and slammed to the ground whether it be in an arrest, a domestic violence situation or an incident of rape. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five American women will be the victim of sexual assault sometime in their life. The relationship between sexual assault and an officer slamming a young woman to the ground is simple. Both are acts of aggression and dominance. Both acts leave their victims terrorized.
Physical aggression moves from disturbing to historically tragic when violent mishandling happens to black women. It is eerily reminiscent of an era when black women were wrested to the ground, attacked and raped at will by the men who enslaved them. It is catastrophically evocative of the Jim Crow era when black women like Mary Turner, eight months pregnant, was captured and lynched in 1910 by a mob in Lowndes County, Ga. Turner was hung upside-down, dowsed with gasoline and put on fire. Her pregnant child was cut from her belly and stomped to death by the mob.
Just a few months before the incidents involving Bland and Becton in Texas, 276 school girls were kidnapped in the small town of Chibok, Nigeria. The terrorist group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility. The distortion and violence associated with the disappearance of the Chibok school girls somehow starts to look like the cases of Dajerria Becton, Sandra Bland and other victims of physical violence at the hands of law enforcement authorities, like Natasha McKenna, who was repeatedly stunned with a Taser while in police custody, or Rekia Boyd, who was fatally shot by an off-duty Chicago policeman in 2012. Although these incidents occurred in different nations, they represent the horror every black girl and woman now has to consider. They represent the tepid response of government to provide support and protection.
Yes, the McKinney, Texas, police officer who yanked Dajerria Becton to the ground was suspended. Yes, the officer who arrested Sandra Bland was eventually indicted of perjury in her case and subsequently fired from his post. But Sandra Bland is dead. Dajerria Becton still carries the emotional scars of being drug and captured like an animal. And 219 girls in Nigeria are still missing. At best, occasional reports about the Chibok girls are still seen on national media outlets. It is unclear what government entities are doing to continue their search. At worst, the combination of governmental nonresponse and lack of media attention threatens to render invisible the trauma these girls and women faced.
While it’s too late for Mary Turner, we have a clear choice 100 years later. We don’t have to stand and helplessly watch terror unfold before our eyes. You can support Title IX reforms at your alma mater. Link up with The White House Council on Women and Girls. Push for changes on a global level through social media advocacy through sites like Bringbackourgirls on Twitter and Facebook. You can cry out until help arrives and the violence stops.
Author: Deborah Bailey, PH.D. M.P.A. is a visiting research scholar at Johns Hopkins University where she is conducting a study on social capital in the Sandtown-Winchester area of West Baltimore.