Sandra Bland And The Invisible Plight Of Black Women In The Justice System


In McKinney, Texas, 15-year-old Dajerria Becton was tackled to the ground, kneed in the neck, and handcuffed by a police officer while she was wearing a bikini. In Cleveland, Tanisha Anderson, a schizophrenic and bipolar woman, was allegedly slammed to the ground in front of her family, before dying in police custody. In Chicago, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd was accidentally shot in the head by an officer who opened fire on a group gathered in an alley.

And in Waller County, Texas, days before she was scheduled to start a new job at her alma mater, Sandra Bland died in police custody. Officers contend she hung herself, but family and friends suspect foul play — especially since video shows officers slamming her head to the ground three days earlier.

Due in large part to social media, Bland’s death has received a lot of attention since the video of her arrest was circulated. And the FBI has already joined the investigation into her death.

In general, though, it is rare for black women brutalized by police to receive this much attention.

Across the U.S., countless black women are killed and targeted by law enforcement — a trend that the #BlackWomenMatter and #SayHerName protests called attention to in April. Yet public figures — including President Barack Obama — continue to overlook them.


“The bottom line is that in too many places, black boys and black men, Latino boys and Latino men experience being treated differently under the law,” Obama said at the NAACP Annual Convention on Tuesday. “And one of the consequences of this is, around one million fathers are behind bars. Around one in nine African American kids has a parent in prison.” While he did discuss African Americans more broadly, he only said “woman” one time — and it wasn’t in the context of black women who experience discrimination in the criminal justice system.

Today, one in six black men is incarcerated. But the number of black women behind bars has also skyrocketed. The number of incarcerated women has increased by 800 percent in three decades, and black women comprise 30 percent of people under state and federal jurisdiction. Currently, one in every 100 black women is behind bars, and black women are three times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts.

But presidential hopefuls have ignored them as well.

During a widely-applauded speech at Columbia University, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton referred to a highly-cited New York Times article entitled 1.5 Million Missing Black Men, which detailed the plight of African American males who are killed by police and disproportionately imprisoned. Although the article described black women as having to rely on themselves in the absence of their male counterparts, they weren’t written about as victims of police violence. And Clinton failed to mention them.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a longtime advocate of criminal justice reform, has also neglected to mention black women. He’s weighed in on the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He’s called for the demilitarization of the police. But he hasn’t directly addressed the police’s treatment of black women.


Police brutality against black women comes in many forms. In addition to being killed outright, the sexual assault of black women by law enforcement is another prevalent issue. For instance, one Oklahoma City police officer will stand trial in October for reportedly sexually assaulting seven black women while on-duty. Allegations against him include stalking and rape. Indeed, patterns of sexual assault by cops leave many black women afraid to call law enforcement for help, out of fear of being re-traumatized by sexual violence.

And patterns of sexual harassment and abuse extends to women and girls behind bars as well. A scathing report on the juvenile justice system found that sexual abuse is rampant in juvenile facilities, and young girls of color — including African American girls — are disproportionately incarcerated in those facilities. Many of those girls are detained and imprisoned for sex offenses, even though they were sexually trafficked. A significant number of girls experienced sexual abuse before entering the juvenile justice system, and are suffering from untreated trauma.

”Prevailing narratives around Black violability and anti-Black racial violence pivot around Black men and boys,” Dr. Treva B. Lindsey, assistant professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies told DAME. “Both historically and contemporarily, when many people working towards racial justice around the issue of racial violence, the presumptive victim is a Black male. From lynching to police brutality, the presumed victim is a Black male. Therefore, Black women and girls are viewed as exceptional victims as opposed to perpetual victims of anti-Black racial violence.”