Criminal-justice reform must be an election issue for black women in 2016. More than any other group of women in the country, black women are killed, raped and victimized by intimate-partner and community violence. While they are the least protected, as the current McKinney, Texas, episode shows, black women and girls are also beaten, racially profiled and assaulted by police.
The disturbing video of Dajerria Becton, 15, being violently forced to the ground by Police Cpl. Eric Casebolt comes on the heels of the #SayHerName campaign, which raised awareness about unarmed black women and girls killed by police. Yet as black women across the nation continue to say her name and protest police brutality, recent events beg the question: Who exactly is listening?
Not the police, clearly. Not our legislators, either.
As presidential hopefuls seize on the hot button issue of unequal justice, they seem poised to ignore black women and girls. For example, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called attention to the “generation of black men” put in prison during the Bill Clinton presidency, while former secretary of state and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lamented that “African-American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police” than their white counterparts.
That’s all true for black women, too. In 2013, while black men accounted for 55.7 percent of police stops for men, black women accounted for 53.4 percent of all women stopped (pdf). Despite the current decline in black women’s incarceration (pdf), historically, they have been more disproportionately represented in prison than black men. Reports also show black girls to be overpoliced and underprotected, though few lawmakers seem prepared to tackle the issues.
To be fair, these folks are probably just following President Barack Obama’s lead. After all, although he received 96 percent of the black female vote, his administration has excluded black girls from the federally funded My Brother’s Keeper initiative, and his economic recovery has left black women behind.
These outcomes are disappointing given that black women have been such an important voting bloc. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, eked out a win in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election largely because of the support of black female voters. In 2012, black women voted at a higher rate than any other group. Thus far, black women have overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party, but that could change.
No party, lawmaker or potential candidate should get the black female vote unless he or she has explicitly stated how he or she intends to protect black women and girls from police brutality and violent crime. Of course, candidates also will need to address key items such as income inequality, housing and health care access, and affordable child care, but at a minimum, proposed justice-reform platforms should include support for the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1933/S. 1056); enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment committed against the public by any member of law enforcement; prohibition of the use of Tasers on pregnant women and children and on women in restraints; amendment of laws so that battered women are not criminalized for defending themselves; automatic appointment of independent, outside investigators and prosecutors in cases of police misconduct and police brutality; adoption of arrest procedures that respect black women’s gender identities and process them accordingly; and the prohibition of exploitative court fines and fees that criminalize poor people.
Ultimately, black women should develop a #SayHerName voter scorecard and cast ballots accordingly. Perhaps an organization like the African American Policy Forum, Black Women’s Blueprint Inc. or the Black Women’s Roundtable could rank candidates’ positions on criminal-justice reform initiatives for black female voters. Ideally, this would happen on the national and local level. The goal being to help black women identify and elect candidates who will actually work toward the day when none of us has to list the names of dead, unarmed black women and girls killed by police, or anyone else, for that matter.
Kali Nicole Gross, Ph.D., a Public Voices fellow, is an associate professor and associate chair of African and African Diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow her on Twitter.