TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. I’m here at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference of 2017 at the Baltimore Hilton Hotel where we’re having a conversation about criminal justice reform and how this affects Black women. Very often in Black activist spaces, the Black women’s experience is erased, but today here it’s being made visible.
The debate over the impact of police brutality on black lives has been informed by a glaring omission, the toll racist law enforcement has taken on Women of Color. At the National Women’s Studies Conference this weekend in Baltimore, scholars and students gathered to correct the record.
BETH RITCHIE: The feminist analysis of policing and carceral control and a lot of people aren’t analyzing policing right now, especially racialized policing but not from a gender perspective.
TAYA GRAHAM: And shed light on just how destructive an equitable justice system has been for an often ignored group, women.
MARY HOOKS: The folks who I know are experiencing this on a daily, the women who are sitting in the cages right now who have told us what has happened to them. Folks are like you’re lying or folks are it doesn’t come up on the police report. It never comes up when they stand before a judge. They never get a chance to tell their stories and their testimonies.
TAYA GRAHAM: Professor Andrea Ritchie, author of Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women, talked about her book, which explores how the practice of targeting Black people by the police state has inflicted untold harm.
ANDRIA RITCHIE: Invisible No More is a book about racial profiling, police violence and criminalization. The title is both a statement of fact and an aspiration. While we’re at the point of unprecedented visibility of Black women as targets of state violence, we nevertheless have a long way to go. In many quarters, narratives and analysis of policing continue to exclude or tokenize the experiences of Black women and in some respects, police violence against indigenous women and other women of color is even further off the map.
TAYA GRAHAM: She noted that the fastest growing group of inmates in the US were not Black men, but Black women.
ANDRIA RITCHIE: Which exists in spite of the fact that women have remained the fastest growing prison population over the past four decades, increasing by 700% and outpacing the rate of growth of men’s prison populations by 50% over the same period and in spite of the fact that Black women continue to be incarcerated at twice the rate of white women and in spite of the fact that one in two Black transgender women will face incarceration in their lifetimes, making them compared to black men at one in three the actually highest or most frequently incarcerated population in this country.
TAYA GRAHAM: She also explored how neoliberal policies implemented and purportedly liberal cities had only made the situation worse.
ANDRIA RITCHIE: I think that the notion that broken windows policing, for instance, makes us safer is a complete fallacy and it is one that is actually built on protecting property and encouraging and moving gentrification. It’s something that’s being advanced by folks who otherwise are perceived as or claim to be progressives but in fact are advancing a model of policing that’s about pushing low income Black people, people who are deemed to signify disorder, out of public spaces. That’s done in racially gendered ways. For instance, anywhere where Women of Color are hanging out and perceived to be engaged in prostitution becomes a target and it becomes a place where women are arrested without evidence, for loitering for the purposes of prostitution.
How do you know what someone’s purpose is when they’re standing somewhere? You don’t. You just act on profiles and stereotypes, but also on who you’re trying to get out of public space.
TAYA GRAHAM: The discussion about the structural inequities in the criminal justice debate was not the only issue where women have been left out.
SPEAKER: Because there are going to be times where you’re in spaces with people who look like you and this means black women who will harm you.
TAYA GRAHAM: At a different panel, activists discussed how difficult it is for women to even join the debate or advocate for themselves.
MARISELA GOMEZ: If you have a grounded solidity of who you are, it doesn’t matter who comes around, tries to make you feel relatively inferior to them. You can bounce that off and that took a long time for me to do, to be able to take time away from organizing and go off to a monastery and find myself, break down and come back up. I challenge that every single one of you need to do that.
TAYA GRAHAM: And how men often dominate the conversation in the groups,which are supposed to represent them both.
DORCAS GILMORE: I have probably gone to the extreme on this, which is where I need to pull back from, which is my first instinct is to create my own space. That’s my first instinct because I’ve had enough experiences to know that it doesn’t matter what degree I have, it doesn’t matter that I’m older than I look, it doesn’t matter, none of that matters. I start from the space of I have to build my community wherever I am and in a work context, that means I need to find my people quick.
TAYA GRAHAM: The discussion at the conference was not just about problems, but solutions.
MARISELA GOMEZ: The panel was really very, I think, enlightening and a big part of it is us knowing when what’s being put in front of us, especially from males, is just not acceptable anymore, especially in organizing spaces. I think something I shared about on the panel was I’ve been doing the work for over 20 years here and I’ve left spaces of organizing in communities and groups because of the way men take up space.
TAYA GRAHAM: Panelists from both talks say they hope their work and what they’ve learned can help correct a tragic imbalance between the suffering of the women at the hands of a discriminatory justice system and the role they can play to stop it.
MARISELA GOMEZ: If we really truly want to change what’s happening in the city, it really requires a priority for the people in the city and requires that we start looking inside and loving ourselves and loving those we say that we want to help. We just have to … We really just have to wake up.
TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.