It took the hanging of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail to wake people up. Her suspicious “suicide" would have been alarming enough – but five Black women have died while in police custody in just two weeks (July 13-27, 2015).
The public’s reaction: this is horribly unbelievable, and absolutely unacceptable. Sadly – as citizens are learning – it’s also all too common.
By now, most Americans of all ethnicities are aware of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and most know the names of at least a couple of the Black men who were killed by police for minor – if any – legal infractions.
Camera phones are everywhere, and the videos of several high-profile incidents have gone viral. Black women, on the other hand, who are also brutalized, raped, and killed by law enforcement and corrections officers, have been largely ignored.
Some of these women are lesbian, bisexual, or trans. All of them are loved by family and friends.
Out of this reality, the #SayHerName, #BlackWomenMatter, and #BlackWomensLivesMatter hashtags and action campaigns have been born. These three hashtags on social media print the names, and show the faces, of Black women and girls who were murdered at the hands of police.
These hashtags and movements are near and dear to me as a Black woman, because it shows that Black women aren't invisible, that our lives mean something, and that our deaths mean something as well.
Thanks to #SayHerName, in death we have names, and faces. Additionally, when we are killed by those sworn to protect us, the #SayHerName campaign helps to put forth the idea that we too are martyrs for social change. Neither our lives nor our deaths will be in vain.
BLAST (Bi, Lesbian and Straight Together) Women of the Palm Beaches has committed to a long-term action campaign to address racism, influence local law enforcement policies to be more transparent and citizen-safe, and continue to #SayHerName. The BLAST campaign includes the efforts of local leaders Julie Seaver (Compass Gay & Lesbian Center), Meredith Ockman (NOW and Women’s Health Foundation of South Florida), Paulette Armstead (BLAST and MCC), Shirley Herman and Joan Waitkevicz (Democratic Women’s Club and NOW), Toni Armstrong Jr. (BLAST), Shell Gottsagen (Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches, Inc.), Denise Walker (Lesbian Women of the Treasure Coast), and several others.
Ongoing BLAST events include anti-racism workshops, #SayHerName action-strategy sessions, meetings with local police and elected officials, participation in #BlackLivesMatter street demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns, and coordinating with other organizations to demand that the Department of Justice and possibly FBI become involved in the investigations of these incidents.
The next session will be #SayHerName: Lessons From Shirley Chisholm, during which we will view the documentary Shirley Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed and analyze her rhetorical and practical strategies for making radical change from within “the system."
Anyone who is committed to working on these issues is encouraged to contact BLAST. The group always welcomes new female members, and is interested in building coalitions with men and mixed groups who are also working on anti-racism projects.
Toni Armstrong Jr. is a long-time LGBT activist in Chicago and now Florida. She currently serves as the events director for BLAST (Bi, Lesbian and Straight Together) Women of the Palm Beaches.
Danielle Allen, who lives in Jupiter, is a #SayHerName activist, leads consciousness-raising information presentations, and participates in street actions such as the West Palm Beach “BlackLivesMatter Die-In” and the big protests in Ferguson, Missouri.