Black Youth Project 100, Black Lives Matter, We Charge Genocide, Ferguson Action, and many other organizations have chosen May 21 as the first National Action to End State Violence Against Women and Girls across the United States. It was chosen as a day to mourn “the lives of Black women and girls lost to police violence, and in lifting up the voices, experiences and demands of Black women targeted by police[i].”
The Young Feminist Wire interviewed Charlene Carruthers from the Black Youth Project 100 about why the National Action Day is important to elevate the stories and voices of black women and girls against state violence.
Young Feminist Wire: What’s your name and what do you do?
Charlene Carruthers: My name is Charlene Carruthers and I’m the national director of the Black Youth Project 100. We are a national organization of Black 18-to-35-year-olds dedicated to achieving liberation, freedom and justice for all black people and we do our work through a black, queer, feminist lens. We have chapters in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, New Orleans and the Bay Area in California. Our work is primarily focused on transforming the leadership development, direct action organizing and political education and public policy advocacy. So, really we are this collective of young black people who are dedicated to building a national base of activists who are equipped to organize, build power toward creating the change we want to see in the world.
CC: In March of 2012, Chicago Police Department Detective Dante Servin shot and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd in an alleyway in Chicago. Just about a month ago, all charges were dismissed in his case on a technicality according to the judge. We believe that, all too often, the way people think about state violence is limited to black cis gender men and boys, and we know that is not the reality. Not only are black women and girls killed by the police, black women are profiled. If you are a black trans woman in America, you are disproportionately profiled for your gender representation and are assumed to be engaging in some kind of activity that the state deems criminal. We also know that black women and girls are victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and physical abuse from police. For us, this moment is about justice for Rekia Boyd, and a call for the immediate firing of Officer Dante Servin. He should not be allowed to serve on the Chicago police department. We also don’t believe this person deserves to have a pension and continue to be paid by American tax payers in Chicago while he has taken the life of a young black woman.
This day is about Rekia, but also it is about folks taking action wherever they live, to end state violence against women and girls in their local communities because there are too many stories. The stories of Mya Hall in Baltimore, Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detroit, Marissa Alexander, CeCe Macdonald the list goes on and on and on. These are all examples of women who have either been killed due to state violence or unjustly punished for protecting themselves.
YF Wire: You touched upon Rekia Boyd’s case, and mentioned others like Mya Hall and Marissa Alexander, but we don’t really hear about them in the media. Can you talk about why that is and how police enforcement of a gender binary plays a role in this?
CC: In multiple communities, we see violence against black women and girls in the home, on the streets, in the workplace, in the welfare office, in hospitals, in schools. We live in a society that is deeply misogynistic, deeply patriarchal, and both of those are highly racialised, and they have always been. In so many ways, this country was built through the bodies of black women. In so many ways, black women’s agency has always been something that is deeply contested with the state unfortunately serving as an arbiter of whether or not black women are agents of our own dignity in this country. The police are part of a larger system, they don’t operate on their own. State violence includes the police but is not restricted to the police, as I mentioned [state violence] happens in the welfare office, it happens when a vigilante decides to attack a black trans woman, and receives no punishment for their violence against black trans women because of who black trans women are. The police fit into a broader structure that travels the world and tells us that black women aren’t worth what we should be worth.
YF Wire: What does it mean to you when you hear about a black woman’s life being cut short because of state-sanctioned violence? How does that make you feel?
CC: I wonder about whether that could have been me. And, in many cases it could have been me. I think about that. I put my own self in the situation. And also, I feel rage of course, every time. But, I have to think about what we need to do in the long term, in the movement building we need to do in order to end state violence and to bring more people into this work because we can’t do it alone.
YF Wire: During the First Annual Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice in 2005, it was said that “Gender policing has, like race-based policing, always been a part of this nation’s bloody history.[ii]” In 2015, what do you think needs to change in order to stop this?
CC: I think it needs to be completely illegal for police officers to stop people based on the assumption that they are a sex worker. We also need to fully decriminalize marijuana in this country. The number one thing that police officers in Chicago arrest people for and spend the most money on in the city of Chicago, is minor marijuana possession, which disproportionally affects black people in the city of Chicago. The other thing is that the president recently announced that he was going to reduce the militarizing of local law enforcement agencies. I need to see all law enforcement agencies completely demilitarized. I don’t think that we need nearly as many police as we have. Those are some of the things that I would like to see happen.
YF Wire: In the mobilization for May 21, what are the actions that you are hoping people will take?
CC: My hope for May 21 is that people do two things – One: that they ground their actions in the stories of black women and girls, I mean black cis-gendered women, black trans women and black women of trans experience. My hope is that they tell a story that’s grounded in what happened to black women and girls all over this country and bring some visibility to it. The second is, I hope that people go out and connect themselves and make the shift that will fundamentally change the institutions that oppress our people every single day. That means not simply calling for cops that kill us and abuse us to simply go to prison, although I think that is transformative, but calling for real systems of accountability, real systems that say ‘This money that you spend on policing in our communities should be spent on restorative justice programs, it should be spent on mental health services, it should be spent on job creation.’ Also, because I understand this is a longer process and people enter it at different points, whatever people are demanding, my hope is that it will shift power relations and improve the lives of black women and girls.
This will be the first of many national action days to come. I think it is important to note that this is our first time organizing this but we are dedicated to a long-term fight and we are not going to be done anytime soon.
To learn more about the call to action to end state violence against women and girls, you can check out: https://inciteblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/a-call-to-action-to-end-state-violence-against-black-women-and-girls/. You can also learn more by following the conversations happening under the hashtags #JusticeforRekia #SayHerName #BlackWomenMatter on social media.
Check out the Stop Law Enforcement Violence Toolkit created by Incite!, a national activist organizing of radical feminist of colour : http://incite-national.org/page/stop-law-enforcement-violence-toolkit
[i] Call to action to end state violence against black women and girls: https://inciteblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/a-call-to-action-to-end-state-violence-against-black-women-and-girls/
[ii] INCITE!’s Organizer’s Toolkit on Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color and Trans People of Color: http://www.incite-national.org/sites/default/files/incite_files/resource_docs/3696_toolkit-final.pdf