On Black Women and Perfect Victimhood

A few days ago, Korryn Gaines was killed by Baltimore County police and her five year old son shot, in a standoff with police over missing a court date due to traffic infractions.

In prior run-ins with police, she had recorded her interactions and posted them to social media, and in the hours before her death, she had also posted from inside her apartment about the officers outside. Strangely, family and friends allege her social media accounts were found to have been deleted after the standoff. (It has since come out that Facebook received and complied with a police request to shut down her social media accounts during negotiations, for fear of the negotiations being compromised by comments on the video she was already recording.)

When the police arrived, letting themselves into the apartment with a key from her landlord, she armed herself with a rifle and insisted that they leave. After five hours of negotiation, they shot her to death, saying she had threatened their lives, in a volley that also left her child with a gunshot wound.

Yet when she died, there was a muted initial response to her death, compared to other other black people killed by police (particularly black men), and the responses that were coming out looked at the presence of her son as evidence of her as a neglectful mother using her child as a human shield.

That phrase comes up a lot in the arguments I’ve been seeing, and having. “Human shield”. What kind of mother is she to use her child as a human shield, right? Except that apparently the Baltimore county police have admitted that she was not using him as a human shield. Is it possible she was actually keeping her child inside with her to prevent what happened to Tamir Rice?

Why didn’t she go peacefully with them? Well, she might have been thinking about Sandra Bland and all the other black women who haven’t made it out of holding alive.

When it comes to police brutality against black people in the US, there is just as high a potential for death for black women as for black men. But black women are routinely forgotten, only revived by awareness campaigns created and supported almost exclusively by other black women. Like #SayHerName.

When three black, queer women — Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors — created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in response to the unlawful deaths by police of Mike Brown in Ferguson, and all the other black people — men and women — who became statistics and hashtags for breathing while black, it turned into a new civil rights movement with several branches that have since begun to make tangible change regarding how police departments across North America deal with citizens, especially black citizens, on a regular basis.

But too often, it is only when black men are killed that the #BlackLivesMatter rage is unleashed from all quarters. When black women die at police hands, it is often only a response from other black women that carries the weight of their right to be remembered and raged over, too.

Often the scrutiny given to the lives of “imperfect” black male victims (“thug” being the most overused and lazy trope) — which is rightly critiqued as character assassination that overshadows the injustice of their deaths — is turned inward in the case of female victims. Too often women have had to call out people, often men, who they’ve previously supported in their rage at unjust black male killings for their silence or complacency in the face of unjust black female killings.

What will it take before black women are given the same support and credibility when their lives are taken too soon?

Her name was #KorrynGaines. #SayHerName. Because #BlackLivesMatter. All of them.