Say Her Name: How The Fight For Racial Justice Can Be More Inclusive Of Black Women

Jul 7, 2020
Originally published on July 7, 2020 7:05 pm

Philando Castile, Eric Garner and George Floyd. The deaths of these Black men at the hands of police have fueled outrage over police brutality and systemic racism.

Men make up the vast majority of people shot and killed by police.

But the names of Black women who were also killed are generally missing from Americans' collective memories, says Kimberlé Crenshaw, co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Forum. The Say Her Name campaign, created by Crenshaw's group in 2014, is meant to include women in the national conversation about race and policing. A few women's names and stories, such as Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by Louisville, Ky., police executing a no-knock search warrant in March, have been part of the Black Lives Matter movement. But others have not — women such as Michelle Cusseaux and Kayla Moore.

In 2014, Cusseaux was shot by police in her Phoenix home while they were attempting to take her to a mental health facility. In 2013, police were called because Moore was having a mental health crisis in her Berkeley, Calif., home, but she stopped breathing after being restrained.

"Black women have been killed in many of the same circumstances as their brothers, fathers and sons. They've been killed driving while Black, being in their homes while Black, having mental crises while Black and their losses just haven't registered in the same way," Crenshaw told NPR. "So Say Her Name is trying to raise awareness by insisting that we say their names because if we can say their names we can know more about their stories."

Here are excerpts from the All Things Considered conversation:

How has the Say Her Name movement been moving forward in a moment when another movement — Black Lives Matter — has been so very front and center?

Say Her Name sees itself as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. What we're very much hoping Say Her Name does is to broaden the conceptualization of what vulnerability to anti-Black police violence looks like: the typical stories, the things that people think happen, are conflicts largely between men. So it's a typical kind of Black men walking down the street, he looks suspicious even though he isn't and the police encounter him. That's what we're learning to see. That's what George Floyd's case generates for people.

What we want to do is say: That's a risk factor, but also when a Black woman is driving a car and a police officer doesn't like her response and so he threatens to taser her and that escalates into that person being dead. These are also moments of anti-Black police violence, but they happen in different spaces than we imagine, they happen to different bodies than we can see, and so we want to insert awareness of these other moments so that the movement and the reforms can actually be more inclusive and we hope more productive.

In this moment where there's been so much focus on racial justice do you feel hopeful?

I always feel hopeful. As long as there's breath in my body and in the bodies of others around us to raise awareness and to express our refusal to accept either the terms of life in the society that we live in or the terms of the movements against those discriminations. So I am both hopeful because there's a refusal at this point to accept the status quo. I am vigilant in this point because I know not always does that refusal include all of us who are subject to many of the crises that we are articulating demands against.

NPR's Jonaki Mehta and Dave Blanchard produced and edited this story for broadcast.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, George Floyd - all Black men who died at the hands of police. But are there names missing from our collective memories, names of Black women who suffered the same fate - Michelle Cusseaux, Kayla Moore, Breonna Taylor? Remembering those names, too, that is part of the message behind the Say Her Name campaign, which was started by the African American Policy Forum. Kimberle Crenshaw is co-founder and executive director of the forum. She joins us now.

Professor Crenshaw, welcome.

KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So that last name I read there, Breonna Taylor, has been front and center in the racial justice protests over these last several weeks. But in general, you would argue women have been largely missing from our national conversation about race and police.

CRENSHAW: Oh, absolutely. Black women have been killed in many of the same circumstances as their brothers, fathers and sons. They've been killed driving while Black, being in their homes while Black, having mental crises while Black. And their losses just haven't registered in the same way. So Say Her Name is trying to raise awareness by insisting that we say their names because if we can say their names, we can know more about their stories.

KELLY: And I want to stress it's obviously not just names. It's the people who bore those names. People might be less familiar with the other two names that I mentioned. Remind us just briefly, if you would, who Michelle Cusseaux was and Kayla Moore.

CRENSHAW: So Michelle Cusseaux was an African American woman who was killed in her home when the police were called on a mental health pickup order. And rather than the police de-escalating the situation, one officer decided that he was going to breach the perimeter of her home. He encountered her inner vestibule while reportedly she was changing her locks. He said he saw a hammer in her hand, and the look in her eyes made him fear for his life, so he shot her through the heart within less than a few seconds of encountering her.

KELLY: And what about Kayla Moore?

CRENSHAW: Kayla Moore was a black transgender woman in Berkeley who was having a mental health crisis. Her roommate called 911 - this is the problem - expecting help. What often comes when you call 911, though, is the police. The police saw Kayla, ran a warrant check on her rather than escorting her to find help. She knew that there was no warrant against her and refused to go, which then prompted a whole range of actions, including swarming her, so the police bodily constrained her. So she ended up being killed in much the same way that we saw George Floyd.

KELLY: So how has the Say Her Name movement - tell me a little bit more about how it has been playing and moving forward in this moment where another movement, Black Lives Matter, has been so very front and center.

CRENSHAW: Well, Say Her Name sees itself as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. What we are very much hoping Say Her Name does is to broaden the conceptualization of what vulnerability to anti-Black police violence looks like. The typical stories, the things that people think happen, are conflicts largely between men. So it's like - it's a typical kind of Black man walking down the street. He looks suspicious even though he isn't, and the police encounter him. That's what we're learning to see. That's what George Floyd's case generates for people.

What we want to do is say that's a risk factor. But also when a Black woman is driving a car and a police officer doesn't like her response, and so he threatens to Taser her and that escalates into that person being dead, these are also moments of anti-Black police violence. But they happen in different spaces than we imagine. They happen to different bodies than we can see. And so we want to insert awareness of these other moments so that the movements and the reforms can actually be more inclusive and, we hope, more productive.

KELLY: You have helped found this movement, Say Her Name, which in an ideal world wouldn't need to exist because we wouldn't have Black women being killed at the hands of police. In this moment where there's been so much focus on racial justice, do you feel hopeful?

CRENSHAW: I always feel hopeful as long as there's breath in my body and the bodies of others around us to raise awareness and to express our refusal to accept either the terms of life in the society that we live in or the terms of the movements against those discriminations. So I am both hopeful because there is a refusal at this point to accept the status quo. I'm vigilant in this point because I know not always does that refusal include all of us who are subject to many of the crises that we are articulating demands against.

KELLY: That is Kimberle Crenshaw, professor of law at Columbia University and UCLA and co-founder of the African American Policy Forum.

Thank you so much.

CRENSHAW: Thanks for having me.

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