A Call for Collective Healing and Justice for Breonna Taylor
On October 7, 2020, NBWJI hosted a call for collective healing and justice for Breonna Taylor and the many named and unnamed Black women and girls who have been killed by police. The call was a community response to the unfortunately unsurprising, yet painful, announcement by the Louisville District Attorney to not charge and hold accountable any of the Louisville Metro Police officers for the death of Breonna Taylor. The decision was a painful reminder of how little this country values Black women and girls' lives, especially when their death is due to police violence.
National Black Women’s Director, Dr. Sydney McKinney, and moderator welcomed everyone to the call for collective healing and introduced our esteemed facilitators, which included National Black Women Institute's Senior Trainer, Falilah Aisha – Bilal, MA, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at the University of Delaware Dr. Cheryl D. Hicks and Police Misconduct Attorney and Organizer, Andrea Ritchie, Esq.
National Black Women Justice Institute's Senior Trainer, Falilah Aisha Bilal, MA began the training with a powerful affirmation. Inviting the community to stop, Ms. Bilal called on everyone to be human, feel the moment's profound emotions and center themselves. "This place we are walking towards, this call for healing for Black women is a spiritual place; it’s an energetic space," says Bilal. The affirmation included moments for deep breathing, gratitude and collective silence. "Ashe," the group collectively said as the affirmation came to a close.
Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at the University of Delaware, Dr. Cheryl D. Hicks opened the conversation by contextualizing Black women and girls’ long history of experiencing police brutality and state sanctioned violence. She called out the names of four Black women: Alice Archer, Bessie Striker, Maria Simpson, and Christine Cousins. These Black women were featured in an 1879 New York Times article about being harassed, beaten, and arrested by NYC police officers over several days. Their stories demonstrate that gender has never protected Black women from police brutality or state-sanctioned violence. Equally critical to understand, Dr. Hicks noted, is that Black women have a long history of consistently defending themselves against police brutality and state-sanctioned violence in many forms. "Examples [of resistance] do not come out of vacuum," says Dr. Hicks. "It comes out of a history of Black women doing this work and continuing to do this work."
Following Dr. Hicks, police misconduct attorney and organizer, Andrea Ritchie, Esq. discussed police violence and state violence against Black women, girls and gender non-conforming people today. She discussed how Breonna Taylor is part of an unfortunate sisterhood. A sisterhood of Black women, girls, and gender-nonconforming people who have been killed by police and at risk of not being the subject of a national protest or organizing. Breonna is part of a sisterhood of women killed by the War on Drugs and No-Knock Warrants, which also includes Tarika Wilson, Kathyrn Johnston, Alberta Sproul, and Aiyana Mo'Nay Stanley-Jones. Breonna is part of a sisterhood of Black women killed in the name of gentrification, killed by officers who have previously committed sexual violence, and killed in her home. “Breonna is also not alone because we are fighting to build a world where Breonna Taylor and all of her sisters would be with us today.” She continues, “We are building a world where Breonna Taylor would still be here by ending the War on Drugs. We are building a world where Breonna Taylor would still be here by building communities where Black women can sleep safely in their beds, every night, all the time, without fear of violence from inside or outside their doors.”
Following Ms. Ritchie, we held space to say, call and honor the names of Black women, girls and gender non-conforming people, known and unknown, who have been killed by police. The call to collective healing concluded with a unifying call to action. Dr. Hicks encouraged Black women to mobilize around police violence by doing what Black women have always done, "fighting the fight wherever you are and building connections”, both inside and outside of systems. Ms. Ritchie encouraged Black women to continue documenting and unearthing Black women's stories and learning the stories behind their names. Additionally, she insisted we must understand demands for visibility as only a starting point; ultimately, we must bring an end to police violence against Black women, girls and gender non-conforming people.
National Black Women’s Justice Institute Executive Director, Dr. Sydney McKinney ended the call thanking everyone for their participation and reminding all of us that now is the time to stand together and remind America of the Black women and girls who have been killed by police. Our sisters will not be forgotten, and no form of police violence against Black women and girls will be ignored or overlooked.
To stay engaged, get involved, or donate to the work of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, please visit www.nbwji.org. To learn more about police violence against Black women and girls, here are important resources and research uplifted in the conversations: Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea Ritchie, Esq. and Talk With You Like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935 by Dr. Cheryl D. Hicks.