Wednesday afternoon I was in bed, fighting flu symptoms, watching the 1990 film “A Long Walk Home” about the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott – a call to action that commenced what would become the boldest, bloodiest, and most embattled civil rights movement that America had ever seen. I watched equally angry and melancholy because a film reenacting racist oppression of fifty years ago was still relevant to the hate on parade in our daily news in 2015. I was struggling to process the unfathomable racist verbal abuse a black Girl Scout troop was subjected to and the violent rape of one young woman and murder of another within a week of one another that warranted little to no press coverage. Surely, I thought, if those who are screaming “All lives matter!” over the very necessary cry of “Black lives matter!” truly believed what they were saying, those girls’ deaths would take preeminence over a white woman’s lifelong pursuit of being black. Surely? Hardly.
I went to bed early, tired and frustrated. I awoke Thursday morning to the haunting news that 9 innocent people had been slaughtered at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina while I slept. Among the slain were Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywana Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., and Myra Thompson – mothers, grandmothers, recent college graduates, fathers, and revered pastors and politicians. Twitter kept me abreast of new developments every minute on the minute leaving me little time to process, only time to gasp and sigh in heartbroken yet angered rhythm. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man entered the church, sat with church members for about an hour, then stood, spouting racist rhetoric and opened fire killing 6 women and 3 men. Of the 3 who survived the shooting was a 5-year-old girl who, heeding her grandmother’s direction, lay down and played dead.
That’s what snapped my heart in two. Opossums play dead to avoid threat of harm. It was necessary for a little girl attending a prayer meeting with her grandmother lay still, pretending to be dead similarly to an animal. That picture calls forth visions of slaves who, from the oldest to the youngest, had to wade through swamps to avoid their owners’ dogs tracking their scent. It draws a vivid picture of civil rights workers choosing to send their families away during the height of The Movement to avoid bombs being thrown into their children’s bedroom windows or crosses being burned on their front lawns.
Even in narrowly avoiding the sting of death, our children are suffering traumas that are so reprehensible yet have become so commonplace. Little girls and boys are being taught in classrooms across the country how to save their lives in case of an active shooter. Black children have to employ these tactics in chain discount stores, in public parks, streets, pools, and now in their houses of worship. We are taught from childhood that we must constantly be on guard simply because of the color of our skin. But when we examine the implications of this now normal lifestyle, we must be careful not to misdirect our gaze when we look for the problem.
When a 5-year-old Black girl’s life hinges on how still she can lay, how dead she can play in our 2015 “post-racial America” we must shine a light on all our efforts for justice and equality to this point. We must examine our approaches, our best outcomes. What agonies, what shock, what hurts will that little girl nurse throughout the course of her life because she lives in a country that handles young Black girls with an extraordinarily lesser degree of care than a white, racist domestic terrorist? What notions, predispositions, and cautions do we hold now, passed down as words of wisdom to prevent reoccurrences of our ancestors’ traumas? And what can we, as a country, say that we actively did to end such systemic suffering?
A friend of Roof’s said that he had “wanted to start a civil war.” While he failed at that, he succeeded in reinvigorating a revolution. A revolution that carries the spirit of Harriet Tubman who squared her shoulders against just the thought of anything less than absolute freedom; Fanie Lou Hamer who indeed “questioned America” to its bigoted face; the #BlackLivesMatter movement that has pushed back against racist norms and pulled young activists to their feet in the midst of a country that had grown lax in its fight against oppression; and hosts of forerunners and frontrunners for the cause of equality and justice.
We cannot allow “playing dead” to become a norm for our daughters or the fear of being shot dead for playing with toys to become a norm for our sons as the expectation of police brutality or intrinsic fear of being raped or murdered given the perfect storm of circumstances has become our everyday lives. I write these words for encouragement to myself as much as to anyone else whose eyes fall upon this page. This is not the time to have emotions policed more than the harm-doers who have inflicted pain. This is the time to continue to fight the good fight, to use our emotions to fuel our resolve. To remember that what we do today will be read about years from now. To remember that the future our children will face is a direct result of our resilience in holding the line of staunch resistance now.
Ashley J. Hobbs is passionate member of the Black Women’s Blueprint team serving as Communications and Campus Programs Coordinator.
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Dear 19-year-old Me,
What you know now, is that there is an element of fear that slowly seeps into the lives of Black women from childhood. It lies just below the surface and masquerades as good sense and intelligence but it’s the small space between just breathing deeply and hyperventilating. It’s the slightest difference between jogging at a steady pace and running for your life.
And while our lives can seem completely normal and functional on the surface there is a terror lurking just beneath. We are taught to embrace it as a normalcy no different than eating three meals a day or going to work. It’s just how things are. You have pretty much always subconsciously lived with the fear of what men could do to you. And during your freshman year of college, what was once just hypothetical became a reality.
You’re not thinking of what Jose did to you as anything but what couples do. They sleep with each other. It’s how you “keep a man” and everyone knows that. You know that even though you aren’t ready. Does that even really matter? He’s your boyfriend. Everyone knows you can’t get naked and then call a time out. Men have needs. They want what they want. To deny them is to bid a cruel sort of beast to come forward out of the darkness and ravage you. A fate you called down upon yourself. You think, “I owe him this, don’t I?”
In a hotel room an hour and a half north of your college, with his linebacker frame crushing all 110 pounds of you, you scream, “No, wait!” and you beat on his back. He whispers, “No, come on babe. You can take it.” You scream back, “No I can’t! You’re hurting me!”
All the terror you were taught about from childhood into adulthood is becoming real and you have nowhere to go. Your bony fists beating into his back finally make him get up. You are too overwhelmed or in shock to cry. All you can do is assess your surroundings when he trips into the bathroom.
Should you gather your things and just leave? You have no license or car. You don’t know your way back to school or home. Did he know that? Is that why he picked this place? You can’t go home. How can you tell your mother what has happened? You just lie there in disbelief that this has happened to you. You have become a statistic. All of the safety tips from childhood onward have gone out of the window. Or is it even that serious? You are boyfriend and girlfriend. This is what is supposed to happen. You’re supposed to have sex with your boyfriend or he’ll find someone else.
Still, you feel an incredible loss and you can’t help but to blame yourself.
You choose not to tell anyone what really happened that night except Donny. And just the tone of his voice. Just the long pause. And then the words, “Ashley… That was rape.” You compartmentalize it, though. You don’t want the shame that comes with being someone’s victim. So, you tell your girlfriends you are fine and you cry in private, praying you aren’t pregnant and swearing you’ll never find yourself in the same position again.
What you don’t know was that it isn’t your fault.
It’s not your fault. It will take a few years but that truth will reveal itself. Your eyes will become much more open to the culture in which we have lived for so long without question or change. A culture where “encouraging” a woman or girl to engage in a sexual act is the norm and those who have been violently assaulted are thrown to the wolves as the harm-doers go free. And though you suffered in silence for quite a while, what will become clear as you get older and relationships with men become less trusting, is that you don’t have to be silent. You don’t have to allow that situation to shove you into the tiniest corner of your existence to waste away. Not when there were so many other women like you who felt the same way you felt and had experienced what you experienced or much worse.
Fear was a driving force in your life, from childhood. Fear of getting in trouble. Fear of being perceived as any number of horrible tropes associated with Black women and girls. Fear of being hurt. Fear of being raped. Fear of never succeeding. Fear of not being believed. It is a pathology that is instilled in us. One that takes a lot of shaking from which to loose ourselves. A burden to carry instead of a blessing to cover.
But instead of accepting it, you will choose a different path. A path that will allow you to find the power of your voice. A path that will include finding ways through writing, discussion, teaching, to tell the masses that some norms are not acceptable and that silence is not our only option. One moment in time does not define or devalue you and you will learn one of the greatest lessons of all: You have just as much a right as any to live fully and wholly. You survived.
Ashley J. Hobbs is passionate member of the Black Women’s Blueprint team serving as Communications and Campus Programs Coordinator.
Twelve police officers responded to a 911 call of a disturbance at the Craig Ranch community pool in McKinney, Texas last Friday. What started out as a peaceful, end-of-the-school-year celebration quickly escalated into a heinous case of police brutality when Corporal Eric Casebolt pinned a 15-year-old swimsuit-clad black girl to the ground with his knees pressed into her back. When other teens who were at the pool party tried to help her, Casebolt drew his gun on them, causing them to scatter, afraid for their lives. This series of events is undoubtedly heinous, terrifying, and angering. What causes even more alarm are the offending officer’s history and training.
According to CNN reports, Corporal Eric Casebolt has 10 years of experience as a police officer with in-depth training in armed and unarmed self-defense, is an instructor trainee at a self-defense and fitness club, and is a certified advanced peace officer.
Why did a certified advanced peace officer so extensively trained in unarmed self-defense find a tactical SWAT roll necessary in dispersing a crowd of unarmed teens in swimsuits? How could he justify his violent handling and kneeling on the back of an unarmed bikini-clad girl less than half his size? What within his training called for pulling his service weapon on unarmed children who clearly were only concerned for their friend’s welfare? Why did he only seem to go after the black teenagers but skip over Brandon Brooks, the young, white ally who caught the entire exchange on his smartphone? Why was Corporal Casebolt the only officer who was behaving so violently and erratically?
These are just a few of the questions that came to mind while I watched the chilling 7-minute video of what happened in the Craig Ranch neighborhood of McKinney, Texas last Friday.
What causes even further outrage is Casebolt’s history. In 2008, Officer Casebolt was sued for allegedly performing an illegal body cavity search. He was accused of excessive force, racial profiling and sexual assault. Though the case was dismissed, we must take a deeper look at the implications. As documented in a 2010 annual report by the CATO Institute, sexual misconduct of police officers is the second most prevalent of police crimes. Yet, officers like Casebolt are free to continue in their line of work, with little more than a slap on the wrist. This is hauntingly reminiscent of so many sexual assault cases that slowly but surely vanish from sight, leaving the victims with no recourse and the harm-doers with free reign to harm others.
Casebolt’s history with sexual assault and racial profiling not unlike many police officers with similar or even far more extensive histories is not only a cause for concern, it is a cause for alarm and steady, intensive action. Law enforcement’s abuse of power is pervasive and threatens the welfare of women and girls of color daily.
Though the other officers who responded to the 911 call at the Craig Ranch neighborhood community pool all seemed distinctively calmer than Corporal Casebolt in the video, Casebolt proceeded with yanking a female child’s arm and pinning her to the ground as she was walking away from him – which he had previously instructed her to do. What does that mean for us as Black women and girls that even when we comply with police officers we are subject to the same level of violence as if we resisted? The other officers did not stop him. The other grown men civilians did not stop him. They weakly coaxed some of the children across the street while a tiny 15-year-old was being thrown to the ground by a grown man. We do not have to be armed. We do not have to be dangerous. We do not have to be physically resisting. We simply have to be in the right place at the right time for police officers to abuse their authority. And no one will come to our aid. That is the message that was sent loud and clear from the video footage of what happened in McKinney, Texas. It can almost be disheartening when it is considered that we have no one to count on to help us, to save us. I shudder to think about what might have happened if the incident had not been caught on camera.
In a similar incident on May 14, an undercover New York City police officer Gonzalez of the 30th precinct overstepped boundaries and attempted to arrest a 14-year-old girl because a 7-year-old who was with her was believed to have pressed a 911 call button on the street. Unlike the events in McKinney, Texas, however, members of the community intervened and prevented the officer from pulling the young girl into his unmarked car after she asked for his badge number and name. Soon after, the officers got into their car and drove away. The entire encounter was caught on camera by a member of the Cop Watch Patrol Unit. It is important that these incidents be recorded, reported, and the harm-doers prosecuted as the lives of black women and girls truly depend upon the justice we receive.
As Black women and girls, we should not need our camera or phone recorders at the ready whenever approached by police officers. We should not feel the same level of fear and distrust of badges as we do of bandits. And yet, we do.
I salute 14-year-old Jahda Bakari, one of the young women who bravely tried to help her friend and was hit in the face by Corporal Casebolt. A 14-year-old girl showed more bravery than the grown men who stood, watching and allowing this police officer to brutalize a young girl. She was undoubtedly afraid but she attempted to do what was right anyway.
There are so many lessons to be learned from McKinney, Texas but if we draw nothing else from it, let us remember that we are powerful beyond what we are often taught to believe. I take my cue from young Jahda Bakari and from Brandon Brooks who caught the assault on video. We must do what we can do to be a part of the call for justice. It looks differently for each of us but it is necessary. We must call upon our inner reserve of strength and courage to stand up, stand out, and stand strong. Whether we are capturing crimes against the bodies of Black women and girls on camera, or physically attempting to come to the aid of our sisters or brothers, whether we’re lobbying against unjust laws, or marching for new and fair laws, we each have a part in this fight. We must not bow our heads in defeat when these atrocities come to light but brave the battlefield with all of the intensity it takes to bring about change.
Ashley J. Hobbs, Communications and Campus Programs Coordinator for Black Women’s Blueprint
Every 2 Minutes
In the 4 minutes it takes to read this post, at least 2 women will have been raped in America. Every 2 minutes someone is raped in this country. This statistic is staggering and yet, we can’t help but still feel that this is only the tip of the iceberg in a culture saturated with violence, where sexual assault and entitlement to another person’s body, access to Black bodies, female bodies and transgender bodies has been the birthright of the privileged.
Black Women’s Blueprint takes sexual assault seriously. It’s serious because Black women continue to be victimized at staggering rates. Only one in 15 Black women report it when they are sexually assaulted. So we can’t really trust the statistics that say 4 out of every 10 Black women in the United States has been a victim of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (CDC, 2010). Over 14% of Black women enrolled in historically Black colleges and universities reported a completed or attempted rape (National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, 2013).
What if every Black woman and girl who’ve survived sexual violation decided to speak. What would the statistics say? What would their speaking say about the ever shifting nature of rape culture in this country? Would their speaking, would the sheer number of survivors, would that push all of us to take to the streets in protest? Warranted protest?
There is a constant stream of sexual assault stories in the news. Many are incidences that should have and could have been prevented, especially on college campuses. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice released study that found that 1 in 5 women are targets of attempted or completed rape on college campuses, and 1 in 16 men. The stats on transgender brothers and sisters are too meager and not enough attention is paid to the violations of their bodies and souls. In 2013, Congress reinstated the Violence Against Women Act with provisions for improved campus safety for all regardless of gender, sexuality and gender identity. These provisions require colleges and universities to report the number of stalking, domestic violence, and dating violence incidents. Reporting the number of assaults should not be where college and universities accountability ends. What good is reporting if campus culture of sexual violence with impunity remains the same?
Sexual violence is a community issue. Many stand by and choose not to get involved because they feel no personal responsibility. This further ingrains a culture of inaction and silence. For example, a Hobart and William Smith Colleges 18-year-old freshman’s reported rape and friend’s testimony having witnessed her being raped were all dismissed within a 12-day investigation and hearing. The accused football players were cleared before the rape kit was processed and the victim’s identity was released to the college population. (New York Times, 2014). This is not uncommon as a devastating number of victims opt never to report sexual assault to avoid being so publicly humiliated and devalued and their attackers receive no more than a slap on the wrist.
Legislation to report sexual assault and “punish” harm-doers is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to end sexual assault on college campuses, all must work together to dismantle the culture of violation, privilege, inequality, and impunity that allows sexual violence to occur unchecked. We at Black Women’s Blueprint extend a call to action to college students and survivors. We support you, we believe you, and we want to hear from you. Contact us and learn more about how to become a part of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Sadness and outrage overwhelmed me as I watched the violence that erupted in Baltimore this week. The death of Freddie Gray in police custody gave rise to an all too familiar sense of despair. As evidenced by the recent stream of murders publicized in the news, it is still open season on Black people in America.
I shook my head as I read tweet after tweet demonizing the residents of Baltimore because I understood, as so many of us do, that the sadness and outrage experienced by American communities bearing the brunt of racist violence can easily become something more ominous. As a Black woman in America, I regularly battle the gamut of emotions when I hear and read about unarmed sisters and brothers being brutally murdered at the hands of those who’ve sworn an oath to serve and protect. Black women are in the vanguard of the battle against such atrocities, not because social justice is “trending” but because we continue to experience violence with little recourse.
Black women are 35% more likely that their white counterparts to be victims of violence, yet makeup only 13% of the U.S. population (Center for American Progress, 2013). Approximately 40% of Black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18, an ongoing survey by Black Women’s Blueprint places that number closer to 60% (Black Women’s Blueprint, 2011). This speaks volumes about the institutional redress available to Black women in America, and the pervasive message of impunity that is strengthened every time violence against a Black person goes unpunished.How do we survive this? How do we stop the onslaught of violence against Black people?
The violence that erupted in Baltimore was the result of generational sadness and outrage reaching a boiling point. Though violence in response to violence is reflexive, it is a dangerous diversion. We must target the root of the problem, pro-actively working towards a complete and restorative justice. We are organizing and demonstrating. We are engaging in thoughtful dialogue to raise consciousness and accountability. We are collectively using our voices, our talents, and our outlets to galvanize people from all walks of life for the cause of social justice. We are hellbent on disrupting the status quo of unpunished excessive force and racist tactics within law enforcement and government. We need the violence to stop. We have no choice but to take action. Our lives depend upon it.
Seeking Justice: Invitation to a U.N. Parallel Event of the Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission March 11, 2015 8:30am-10:30am.
PARTICIPATE VIA TELECONFERENCE
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On behalf of our Human Rights Commissioners and Board of Directors, The Black Women’s Blueprint would like to invite you to Seeking Justice, a United Nations Parallel event on Wednesday, March 11th during the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting in New York.
The CSW event will engage key feminists, clergy, scholars, journalists and advocates like yourself in strategic dialogue about our implementation of the first Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Against Sexual Assault (BWTRC) in the U.S. and our plans for a Tribunal at the U.N. in April 2016.
Why the BWTRC: Launched by Black Women’s Blueprint in 2010, the BWTRC is the first of its kind to focus on sexual assault and Black women in the United States. As an independent body, led by civil society, the Truth Commission’s objective is to examine the history, context, causes, and consequence of rape/sexual assault on women of African descent. It is a bold, innovative and groundbreaking move by Black women across generation, ethnicity, sexuality and other identities to confront the ever-shifting nature of rape culture, and sexual violence against African-American/Black women in the United-States.
What We Have Accomplished: Black Women’s Blueprint has worked with over two hundred women on the ground. In addition to our domestic advocacy work which includes direct social services and justice reform, we have taken the fight for racial and gender justice internationally. The organization monitors U.S. compliance with human rights treaties and advocates for reform through treaty bodies. Since 2013, we have submitted three shadow reports—a CERD Shadow Report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in August 2014, a CAT Shadow Report to the Commission of the Elimination of All Forms of Torture (CAT) on state sanctioned violence against Black women in the U.S.; and a UPR Report for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to member states interested in the U.S.’ track record on the treatment of women of African Descent within and at its borders. In addition, we have engaged with the White House Council on Women and Girls and the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on Campus to ensure the voices of Black women remain central to any processes aimed at protecting bodily integrity and personal security for women and girls in communities. We are also leading efforts to organize Black women around Cities for CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) and are sponsoring the March 14, 2015 Global African Women Birthing the Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development.
On March 11, 2015, the meeting will take place at Guild Hall, the Armenian Convention Center, 630 2nd Avenue (at 35th St.) NY, NY 10017. A phone conference line will also be available in the event you are unable to join us in person. During the Parallel Forum we will update you on the current work of the BWTRC, discuss the critical challenges we have faced, ask for critical feedback and direction, discuss next steps and more importantly share our plan for the much anticipated 2016 Tribunal. As a leader in our very diverse community, we are excited at the possibility of your participation in this process as well as the discovery of ways to build collaboration and resources.
We look forward to hearing whether you will be able to join us in this groundbreaking work to address the complexities that living at the intersection of race and gender creates for women of African Descent who are survivors of sexual assault. Again, we thank you for your commitment.
Read all three reports, click on the links below.
- Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment (CAT): Invisible Betrayal: Police Violence and the Rapes of Black Women in the United States
- Universal Periodic Review (UPR): The Human Rights Situation for Black Women of African Descent in the United States
- Convention On the Eradication of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD): Racial Discrimination And Sexual Violence Against Black/African-American Women - The Impact of Inadequate Racial Justice Initiatives and Violence Prevention Policy Implementation in the United States