“For to survive in the mouth of this dragon we call america, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson – that we were never meant to survive. Not as human beings…Black or not.” – Audre Lorde, Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Sister Outsider (1984)
Black Women’s Blueprint unequivocally stands with the survivor who is going by Anna Chambers, as she speaks her truth and as she fights for justice and accountability from the two NYPD Police Officers who abused their power and privilege.
This is not an isolated incident. Sexual misconduct by police officers or public officials, is the second most prevalent form of police crime as noted by a 2010 annual report conducted by the CATO Institute. The number is likely higher as victims tend to underreport in general, police officials tend to use a more limited definition to assess incidents of rape, officers tend to profile victims whose credibility will likely be doubted; and victims of police crimes are, understandably, reluctant to report the crime to their perpetrators, the police. For Black and Brown women and girls in the United States specifically, fully accounting for their experiences of sexual assault requires understanding the historical context and institutional legacy of slavery and the contemporary burden placed on victims of police sexual assaults.
The notion that Anna or any individual could consent to sex in police custody while handcuffed, is absurd. Consent, by definition, cannot be freely given if there is any type of coercion (economic, social or physical), compliance or cooperation based on an imbalance of power due to physical size, strength, gender, status or authority. If one’s survival depends on compliance, there can be no consent. What those who have privilege forget or overlook, is that policing in the United States is a system which consistently devalues and dehumanizes women’s bodies, Black and Brown bodies, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming bodies. This system dehumanizes those of us with disabilities, with undocumented status or are low income. Police officers as agents of the State wield power and privilege codified within white supremacist and sexist structures at all levels. Under such crushing power one cannot consent.
A reckoning is long overdue in this country which forces us to look deeply and honestly at a 400 year legacy of systematic and state sanctioned rape against women and girls of color. A white Oklahoma City police officer by the name of Daniel Ken Holtzclaw was charged in August 2014 on sexually assaulting, raping, stalking, fondling and exposing himself to at least eight Black women, who are between the ages of 34 and 58, during traffic stops while on duty. According to reports, Holtzclaw targeted these women because he profiled them as drug users, prostitutes and sex workers, women whose credibility will be called into question. Given that all these women were Black and at least one was not in fact a sex worker or drug user, and none fit the typical age profile, Holtzclaw also profiled these women precisely because of their Black female identity. The persistent devaluation, degradation and dehumanization of women of color, trans identified and gender non-conforming people, those with disabilities, undocumented and immigrant women and others must be stopped. Even without knowing the race of this particular survivor, we as a nation have to address the legacy of white supremacist misogyny in this country that allows rape particularly by police officers, to continue unchecked.
How many more Daniel Holtzclaws, Eddie Martins and Richard Halls must there be before we address the reports of the increase in incidences of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault (National Crime Victimization Survey, December 2008) by law enforcement officers? Given the June 2011 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police which acknowledges awareness and documentation of police sexual misconduct, what steps is the government willing to take to eliminate rape, abuse and enact strict disciplinary policies and procedures that address these issues at the root where white supremacy and misogyny thrive. Training, the Gender Bias Policing guidelines and proposed reform, while offering potential to move us forward, cannot fundamentally change a system built on white and male domination, oppression, and misogyny.
To our City and State government leaders, Black Women’s Blueprint stands in solidarity with survivors first. Black Women’s Blueprint stands with the Faith Leaders, women’s organizations and others demanding immediate termination of the two accused officers. Because we know that consent is never up for debate, because any sexual interaction between someone with a gun, a badge, and the backing of institutions predicated on misogyny and white supremacy is an abuse of power, rapists with badges must be held accountable. We are tired of practices, attitudes, imprecise language and state laws that shield those in positions of power. Rape is rape, and there can be no consent if one is in the custody of the State.
While the general public has started talking about the war on women, racist/sexist policies and institutions abound that do little to nothing to intervene in what has always been national warfare on women, and in particular women of color. Positioning rape by police officers squarely within the context of war might finally compel communities to mobilization around what are often considered less popular, less compelling issues—like the treatment of women and girls, their safety and their bodies.
To our sister-survivor, we see you. We will continue to stand with you and we will continue to fight to hold all those who rape--whether they are family or community member, celebrity, politician or police officer, accountable for the harm they inflict and the terror propagated by such harm.