© 2022 WYSO
Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

How To Stop Erasing Black Women From The Conversation Around Police Brutality


It has been four months since Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police in her home. Those officers have not been arrested or charged with a crime. The incident report was essentially blank. It listed Taylor's injuries as, quote, "none." And for police misconduct attorney Andrea Ritchie, that erasure is symbolic because despite names like Breonna Taylor becoming a rallying cry, Black women are often erased from the conversation around police violence. Ritchie is the author of the 2017 book "Invisible No More: police Violence Against Black Women And Women Of Color." And when I spoke with her earlier, I started by asking her how the relationship between Black women and the police is different than that of Black men.

ANDREA RITCHIE: Well, I would say that Black women experience policing and police violence in many ways that are very similar to the experiences of Black men and also ways that are unique. So many Black women experience police violence, as Breonna Taylor did, in the home, definitely in the context of the war on drugs and no-knock warrants. Also in the context of police responses to calls for help, which is something that I've always found profoundly alarming and disturbing in the context of my research, which is that so often women like Atatiana Jefferson are in their home and either someone else is concerned for their safety or they call for help and they wind up dead or injured or raped. And I think that is one of the things that is more unique about Black women's experiences of policing.

CHANG: Can you distinguish between the experience of trans Black women and the kind of police brutality they confront versus cis Black women?

RITCHIE: The thing that happens with Black trans women that I really want to lift up is that the way in which police violently attack or criminalize or arrest or harass Black trans women translates into a greater likelihood of the kinds of community violence and deadly violence that we've seen. So I want to lift up the name of another Brianna, Brianna Hill, who went by BB Hill, who was violently beaten by police officers outside a nail salon. And it was brutal. And then she wound up being killed several weeks later. And the connection between the two is an important thing, that police are signaling by violently beating and abusing a Black trans woman in public that they certainly are not going to protect her and that violence against her is completely permissible and state sanctioned.

CHANG: When I listen to you describe the kind of violence that Black women experience at the hands of police, including sexual violence, I mean, it becomes apparent to me that there are so many layers to this that might explain why their experiences with police are different from experiences that Black men confront. I mean, not only are these women Black, they are women on top of that, sometimes they identify as queer, as trans. So, like, no one identity explains why they were being treated by police the way they are. There's an intersectionality to this, right?

RITCHIE: Definitely. We often talk about Black women living at the dangerous intersections of state, community and family violence, and that each of those structures of violence play off each other and mutually reinforce each other. So as an example, Black women experience the highest rates of poverty alongside Native women of any group in the country. And that brings them into contact with police officers more often. One stat says that half the people who need diapers can't afford them. They're not nonessential. So if you can't afford them, you're going to get them some way or another. And that is a point of contact with criminalization and other forms of policing that may not be wearing a police officer's uniform but are engaging in criminalization of policing.

CHANG: Given the fact that there is so much that's unique about the experience of Black women when it comes to police brutality, do you feel that the conversation around police brutality doesn't include the experience of Black women enough?

RITCHIE: The title of my book, "Invisible No More," is both a statement, a fact, a demand and an aspiration. So I think particularly as we're looking at this month being the fifth anniversary of Sandra Bland's death, there's no doubt that following the movement and uprising around her death that women's experiences, Black women's experiences of police violence will never again be invisible to the degree they were before her killing. And I think we've seen that in the context of the response to Breonna Taylor's killing. And they're still less visible than Black men's experiences. And so it's a demand that we really, truly be invisible no more.

CHANG: Andrea Richie is the author of the book "Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women And Women Of Color."

Thank you so much for your work and for speaking with us about it.

RITCHIE: Thank you so much for yours and for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.