What About Our Girls?
I would be less than honest if I said that the news of the death of Ma’Kiah Bryant at the hands of the Columbus Police Department knocked the wind out of me. A sixteen year old girl called the police for help because an attack on her and/or her family was imminent and she was killed. Four bullets to her chest.
Social media is a buzz with questions as to whether the officer was justified when he pulled the trigger four times. These questions always come up when Black and Brown bodies are involved. People who are neither Black nor female are always looking for ways to rationalize the violence visited on the bodies of Black women and girls in ways that are troubling at best and disgusting at its worst. If anyone has the ability to disarm someone wielding a knife it should be trained law enforcement personnel. However, this officer chose to make a deadlier decision.
FOUR BULLETS TO HER CHEST.
The critical questions people fail to ask is why Ma’Kiah felt the need to have a knife in the first place. Why did she feel she had to protect herself even after she called the police? Why did these girls show up at her house to fight? What made her get to the point where she felt this was an option? And most importantly, why did the community fail to protect this young girl?
To understand Ma’Kiah’s stance is to understand the oftentimes perilous and precarious nature of being a Black girl in the United States. Black girls are never given the space to just be children. There is a maturity; an adultification that is read upon their bodies that is unfair and problematic. This idea that they are older than what they present allows officers to handcuff six year old Kaia Rolle who having a temper tantrum and another unnamed six year old girl to be handcuffed by Ontario officers, it gives officers permission to pepper spray a nine year old girl in the back of a police car who is distraught and crying for her father. Black girls are not allowed to experience the innocence of childhood, they are expected to have the culpability of adults, and therefore are treated as such.
Since the murder of Ma’Kiya Bryant, several women friends and colleagues have shared stories about groups of girls coming to their schools, homes, and/or neighborhoods to “jump” them. For those unfamiliar with the term, “jump” refers to an act of physical, and sometimes deadly violence perpetrated on one person by two or more people. Oftentimes these scenarios are triggered by someone liking a boy, or a girl thinking she is “too cute” and she needs to be taken down a peg or two, simply that someone doesn’t like you so they want to beat you up. In some of these situations one or more of the persons involved has a weapon — knife, boxcutter, etc. — that is intended to inflict harm on their target. Yes, this is the reality that many Black girls face! The resulting injuries are often physical, psychological, and emotional. If you’ve never been bullied, or the subject of this kind of attack, you have no idea the kind of mental mathematics it takes to survive the onslaught of intimidation showered on you. I’ve been there. I was bullied in elementary school and you never forget the feeling of powerlessness, helplessness, and sense of feeling alone. No, I didn’t get a knife to deal with my bully, however, I understand the need to protect and defend oneself from harassment.
My grade school bully chose to torment me with threat of bodily harm. She was physically larger than me. She pulled my hair, whispsered threats no one else could hear, got other girls to join in, took my clothes and hid them during trips to the pool, and other things. Teachers ignored her behavior. They saw her. It was only when I got fed up and walked out of class screaming that anything was done. My parents were aware — their response reeked of respectability. “Girls don’t fight” and “you let me handle it” was the response I got. To fight was to engage in highest level of unladylike behavior. However, I believe that children should be able to defend themsevles from threatening and harassing behaviors. Not always through violence but sometimes that’s all bullies understand. Later in the school year the girl who bullied me lost her father in a riot. The newspapers covered his death. He was someone who fought for the little guy in the community and was killed during a march that turned violent.
The toll on her was palatable. I could see the sadness take over her. After her father’s funeral she came to school most days smelling like urine and peed on herself in class sometimes. Other kids made fun of her but I didn’t. It seemed pointless. It didn’t seem right to heap more pain on her than what she was already feeling. I couldn’t imagine losing my dad in that way. I just left her alone. Eventually, her family moved to another state. I never saw her again.
In a racist, sexist, patriarchal culture hell bent on misnaming, misdefining and marginalizing them who protects Black girls and women? Their bodies have never been deemed worthy of protection. There is a particular and frightening silence around the deaths of Black women and girls in police custody. Kimberle Crenshaw, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The African American Policy Forum (AAPF) asserts that if our collective outrage around cases of police violence is meant to serve as a warning to the state that its agents cannot kill without consequence, our silence around the cases of Black women and girls sends the message that certain deaths do not merit repercussions. Part of AAPF’s mission is to promote frameworks and strategies that address a vision of racial justice that embraces the intersections of race, gender, class, and the array of barriers that disempower those who are marginalized in society. Who is more disempowered that Black girls in a racist, sexist, classist culture that judges them? AAPF’s #sayhername campaign brings awareness to the names of Black women and girls whose stories often go unnoticed, unreported, and ignored when they are harmed or killed as a result of police violence.
Who advocates and stands in the gap for them? Who marches, protests, and screams out loud to the heavens on their behalf? Black women and girls literally lay their bodies on the line everyday in support of others and yet no one shows up for them. Black Lives Matter is often interpreted to mean Black men and boys matter. When will Black women and girls matter? Who tells their stories beyond the hashtag?
Ma’Kiah Bryant has become another hashtag in a roll call of names that must end. When asked who will stand in the gap for Black girls like Mi’Kiah I proudly say I will. I will fight for you. I will march for you. I will write on your behalf. I will advocate for you.
Mi’Kiah Bryant and for ALL the other Black girls. I see you. I remember you. I honor you. I speak your name.