The public spotlight on the killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner at the hands of police officers in the United States has shifted the issue of police brutality against black communities to a level of public acknowledgement not seen since the days of the first televised civil rights marches in the 1960s. Black Lives Matter, an activist movement founded by three black women—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—has precipitated this public recognition. However, in the national conversation surrounding police brutality, the lives of black women taken by police brutality are rarely discussed. #SayHerName is a movement attempting to highlight police violence against black women.
The death of Sandra Bland, which received more media attention than any other black female victim of police brutality, set off the spark from which the #SayHerName movement began. At protests following the discovery of her body hanging in a Texas jail cell after her arrest during a routine traffic stop, protestors chanted “#SayHerName,” invoking the need for acknowledgement of black female victims of police brutality.
A policy brief issued by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) after the movement was birthed explicitly calls for a way to “ensure that Black women’s stories are integrated into demands for justice, policy responses to police violence, and media representations of victims and survivors of police brutality.” According to The Guardian, 16 black women have been killed by police since the beginning of 2015, compared to 321 Black men, but the AAPF states that there is no readily available database of police killings since, remarkably, there are no such records published by the US government. Recommendations by the organization include representation of the names and faces of black women alongside those of black men, acknowledgement of the high proportion of black transsexual women that have been murdered, and the need to conceptualize violence against black women and girls within the context of systems like the school-to-prison pipeline and exponentially higher suspension rates for black girls in school when compared to their peers. Until names like Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Jones, Yvette Smith, and those of other black women killed by police are acknowledged and justice for their deaths served, the #SayHerName movement serves as an urgent reminder that the lives of black women and girls matter, too.