Shaneka Nicole Thompson’s name should be familiar to you by now—but it isn’t.
Shaneka Thompson is a black woman who was shot by Ismaaiyl Brinsley this past Saturday before he headed to Brooklyn, N.Y., and tragically killed two police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, before killing himself. Thompson is the woman vaguely referred to in early news stories only as Brinsley’s “ex-girlfriend” or “a woman in Baltimore.”
She lives in Owings Mills, Md.—a Baltimore suburb—works for the Maryland Department of Welfare and serves in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, according to the New York Times, which finally reported on her on Monday in a larger story about Brinsley. She’ll recover from her wounds after being shot with the 9 mm semi-automatic handgun Brinsley fired into her stomach early Saturday morning. After he shot her and left, taking her phone, she pleaded with an apartment neighbor, “I can’t die like this. Please, please help me.”
Thompson is in a unique position. She intimately knew Brinsley and saw him the morning of his killing spree. Perhaps more than anyone else, she can offer insight into what he was thinking that day and what set him off. She survived his attack and she’ll be speaking out soon.
Treat her like she matters because she’s a person whose life does matter—and because she has an important story to tell.
Thompson isn’t a police officer, but her life and her story matter as much as one. She is one of Brinsley’s three victims, the lucky one who survived, yet she hasn’t been afforded the same respect as those victims who wore a badge. While the two slain officers have been pictured and had their stories told on the front pages of newspapers nationwide, Thompson has been reduced to a footnote.
In some cases she’s been erased entirely, likely because her encounter with Brinsley doesn’t fit the narrative that he was on the African-American equivalent of a jihad when he arrived in Brooklyn: Start talking about Brinsley shooting his ex-girlfriend a few states away that morning, then try tying his actions that afternoon to protests, and it just doesn’t add up. He was just killing to be killing before breakfast, but by lunch, his political sensibilities were awakened? Really?
The rallying cry of ongoing protests against police violence is “Black lives matter”—along with “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe”—that’s what can be heard at marches, die-ins and peaceful disturbances across the country. On the surface, it’s a call for police to improve their treatment of African Americans, to stop killing unarmed men and boys who have become the de facto face of the movement.
But “Black lives matter” extends beyond police officers and beyond black men. It’s a declaration to everyone listening, including the mainstream press, of the recognition of the humanity of black people—men and women. It’s as much a demand to stop the shooting as it is an appeal that we treat missing black children with the same concern as missing blond ones. It’s a call to pay attention to the best of our culture, too, instead of always focusing on the worst. It’s a plea not to put victims on trial and not to ignore or reduce our roles and contributions to history, past and present.
It’s an insistence that Shaneka Thompson’s life matters; that black women matter, and the crimes committed against us matter, even when we somehow summon the strength—’cause it’s not always there—to survive whatever bad thing happens to us.