Much of the narrative on police brutality in America is centered on police violence against black men. The recent killings of Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Keith Scott, to name a few, have sparked the well-respected #BlackLivesMatter movement as a response to the unarmed killings of African Americans by police. Just because the national conversation about police violence is focused on men, doesn’t mean that women of color are exempt from the ire of law enforcement.
Andrea Ritchie, a police misconduct attorney, decided to take a closer look at women of color’s experience with police brutality in her new book titled, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color (Beacon Press).
In Invisible No More, Ritchie draws on the individual stories of Reika Boyd, Sandra Bland, Dajerria Becton, Monica Jones, and Mya Hall. She also looks at racial profiling, immigration, among other issues, and how they affect women of color.
VIBE spoke with Ritchie, who is also co-author of Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, about her new book, “broken windows” policing, and why more attention isn’t given to women of color experience with police violence.
VIBE: Briefly tell us about your book “Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color.”
Andrea Ritchie: Invisible No More explores women’s experiences of racial profiling, police violence, immigration enforcement, and mass incarceration from a number of angles – from a historical perspective, through the present-day experiences of girls and young women, women with disabilities, mothers, and survivors of violence, and through the lens of racialized policing of gender and sexuality – as well as ways in which women of color have resisted police violence over decades, centuries really. It uses individual women’s stories, research studies, and examples of organizing efforts addressing women’s experiences of policing to paint a picture of both the problem and the response.
What drew you to this research?
As the 1991 Rodney King beating and aftermath unfolded, and the conversations around racial profiling and police violence sparked by the incident evolved, it became clear to me that Black women’s experiences of police shootings, beatings, strip searches, and sexual violence were consistently left out. While communities of Black women and women of color were talking about and organizing around these cases and patterns of abuse, the rest of the world was only talking about the experiences of Black men and men of color (who were assumed to be heterosexual and not transgender). Black women were coming forward and telling their stories, but somehow they were never integrated into the larger story about policing, our analysis of the problem, or proposed solutions. Gradually, I became what you might call obsessed with documenting, tracking down, raising and publicizing the stories and patterns of police violence that mainstream movements against police brutality and violence against women were not paying attention to.
What message do you want to get across with this book?
That racial profiling and police violence affect Black women and women of color in many of the same ways and contexts as they do men – driving/walking/breathing while Black, “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” policing, the school-to-prison pipeline, immigration enforcement. And that they also affect Black women and women of color in unique ways and settings – like drug law and prostitution enforcement, “walking while trans,” “giving birth and mothering while Black,” and police responses to calls for help. And that the lives of Black women, trans women, Native women, disabled women, queer women, Latinxs, girls of color matter – even if they make up a smaller percentage of stops, arrests, police killings, and people in prison. And that these experiences have a lot to teach us about racism and resistance. If we are not looking at the full picture, we can never fully tackle the problem.
You talk about the erasure of black women’s experiences. How can we counter this erasure?
We need to make room for women’s stories in the conversations, in the research, in the organizing, in the advocacy. We need to look past the surface and delve deeper to learn about women’s experiences, to constantly ask ourselves in conversations about racial profiling, police violence, and mass incarceration “how does what we are talking about here affect Black women (including, of course, Black trans women)? Does that change the way we understand this issue? The demands we should be making?” And if we don’t know the answer, we need to do the work to uncover what is currently invisible, to ask each other, to ask Black women. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a Black woman tell a story of racial profiling or police violence she’s never told before simply because no one ever asked her about her own experiences, or “it just never seemed like it was something anyone wanted to talk about.”
We also need to look beyond where we are already looking to find the places and ways police come into contact with Black women that may be unique – in hospitals, welfare offices, public housing, in our homes and on the streets – in order to better understand what those interactions look like, if there are trends there that demand our attention. That’s how we’ll see how Black trans women experience policing, how child welfare enforcement involves racial profiling and criminalization of Black women, how racial profiling manifests in the context of prostitution enforcement, and start to integrate those experiences into our analysis and our resistance.
Will you explain policing paradigms and criminalizing webs and how it affects women of color?
Policing paradigms are basically ways in which people think about policing and public safety – for instance, “broken windows” policing is an unproven theory that aggressive enforcement of minor offenses like littering, drinking in public, or not paying a public transit fare somehow stops more serious offenses. Invisible No More explores how paradigms like the “war on drugs,” “broken windows’ policing, criminalization of immigrants, and the “war on terror” weave together into a web that ensnares women of color in ways that are increasingly visible in the current political climate.
For instance, racial profiling and discriminatory enforcement are driving both the growing number of Black and Latina women in jail for drug and “public order” offenses and the criminalization and deportation of immigrant women. A drug arrest can lead to eviction from public housing and further criminalization through “broken windows” policing, which explicitly targets homeless people. Pronouncements by public officials that transgender people are somehow a “disruption” contribute to police harassment, violence, and arrests of trans people in public spaces by police charged under “broken windows” policing with rooting out “disorder.” Erosion of health care means more women in mental health crisis coming into contact with police and being locked up – or worse. In the end, everywhere we turn, there is a tentacle of the criminal legal system reaching out to grab women of color.
Can you tell us—in your opinion– why more attention is given to men who experience police violence as opposed to women who experience police violence?
Historically, state violence has consistently been framed as something targeting men of color, while private violence has been framed as something experienced by white women, leaving Black women and women of color, who disproportionately experience both forms of violence, out of the conversation altogether. Also, when we understand police violence primarily as fatal shootings of unarmed people we leave out a lot of women’s experiences – including police sexual violence, sexual harassment, and strip searches, for instance. And, I think confronting police violence against women of color requires also confronting the violence that women of color experience within our own communities, which people are largely reluctant to do.
Do you have any ideas on how women can counter Broken Windows policing?
By pointing out the ways in which it increases violence rather than decreasing it – through sexual harassment and extortion by police, police brutality, gender policing of trans and gender nonconforming people, and by criminalizing women for surviving poverty, often in ways that make them more vulnerable to private violence. And by pointing out the ways in which it facilitates racialized policing of gender, and sexuality through notions of what constitutes “disorder,” whether it’s a group of queer or gender nonconforming Black girls hanging out on a corner being loud, or a Black woman walking down the street late at night dressed to go out, or a Black woman sleeping in a public place. It’s not about public safety, it’s about regulating people of color in public spaces.
We’ve heard similar stories like the stories in this book before, but why is this book important?
It brings the individual stories, existing research, and examples of campaigns centering the experiences of women and girls of color together in one place to fuel conversations that go beyond increasing visibility of women’s stories to asking how they change the conversation.
Are there other areas of research you would like to see explored on this topic?
There are so many! At the most basic level, I would like to see scholars and policy analysts challenge themselves to look more closely at existing data through the lens of both race and gender, and to talk about racial disparities in surveillance, stops, arrests, and punishment for women in the context of the “war on drugs,” immigration, child welfare, prostitution enforcement, and responses to calls for assistance. I would also like to see more research on profiling and police violence targeting Native women, Asian women, and Muslim women. For instance, Native people experience the highest rates of police violence in the U.S., but we know very little about Native women’s experiences of policing beyond a few cases of police shootings and deaths in custody. By making all women of color’s experiences of policing more visible, we will find common ground – both among women of color and between men and women of color – that can fuel our collective resistance.
You can purchase Invisible No More over at Beacon Press.