THE DEATH OF SHARLEENA LYLES--We have lost yet another black woman to state violence this week.
Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four was gunned down by police in her home. Lyles called the police reporting a burglar in her home. Instead, they showed up and killed her in front of her children. (Photo above: People attend a memorial outside an apartment building of Charleena Lyles.)
There are many things about this devastating tragedy that are worth writing about. The narrative being spun by Seattle police via The Seattle Times and other media outlets, the eyewitness accounts of the incident, the notion that bullets are needed to “handle” a tiny black woman in her own home.
But I’d like to focus on just one part of this — the lack of attention being paid to this death in the wide and expanding movement for black lives.
Activist Feminista Jones expressed this via twitter a few days ago:
Jones is spot on here. Lack of support for victims of police violence who are black women has been a persistent issue for a long time. Black women are taking the lead in the current movement for black liberation, while also being ignored and pushed aside when our deaths occur.
I have been working to connect people to this movement for over five years. The first nationwide call to action I participated in was the National Moment of Silence in August 2014. It was a nationwide vigil for Michael Brown initiated by Jones. Over 115 cities participated around the country. I coordinated the Philadelphia vigil and was bowled over by the 700-plus Philadelphians who showed up for Brown that day.
I went on to create the Ferguson Response Network Tumblr to support additional nationwide efforts calling for change. Over 150 cities participated around the world and the site was featured on the Rachel Maddow Show. I was excited to see the movement becoming a more connected and responsive entity.
Black death at the hands of the state is a rage-inducing reality in this country. It happens as sure as the sun comes up each day, and the months following the creation of Ferguson Response were no exception. Nationwide calls to action became a way of life for me and many others. We took to the streets for Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Brandon Tate Brown, Freddie Gray and so many others stolen from our communities too soon by police. Each time I added a call to action to the Tumblr, cities would respond by planning an action. Getting 80-plus cities to participate each time was a fairly simple task.
In May 2015, a group of organizations issued a call-to-action to #SayHerName. We wanted shift focus onto the black women who had been killed. I was excited and hopeful that the movement I had watched become so powerful would show up for black women.
Reality hit me like a sledgehammer. Not only could we not get 50 cities to participate, I remember having to get on the phone and personally call organizers in 20 cities to get them to hold #SayHerName actions. Twenty cities, such a low bar. I was hurt but hopeful that these 20 cities would turn out for black women.
Not only was attendance low, the #SayHerName actions were almost exclusively attended by black women. In Chicago, where Rekia Boyd was killed by police, organizers reported only six attendees that were not black women. Six.
Another sobering truth came in August 2015 when activist Elle Hearns called for #TransLiberationTuesday, a nationwide call to action to support the brutal murders of black transgender women around the country. We saw even lower participation, attendance, engagement and focus. It became crystal clear: When we center on black women, cis or trans, don’t expect anyone to show up besides black women.
And now, in the wake of the death of Charleena Lyles, that truth persists.
This truth is pathological. I know this because most reading this won’t know the names of the following women the police and the state have taken from us.
Said plainly — we collectively do not #SayHerName and never have.
Late last year, I started the Safety Pin Box, a monthly subscription box for white people striving to be allies, with Marissa Jenae Johnson. From the start Marissa and I were clear about one thing — we created this business to support black women.
We chose to do this because it has been very clear to me for quite some time that the only people here for black women are black women. We won’t see the widespread outrage for Charleena Lyles that we did for Alton Sterling.
Black women are the ones who will be supporting Lyles’s family. Black women are the ones who will be leading the protests of this senseless death. Black women are the ones will not allow the police narrative to be the only narrative in the life of this beautiful mother.
This movement needs a wake-up call. When organizing is measured in actions and attendance and success is tallied in crowd size, how can black women ever be free? How long can we continue to be both the backbone of this movement and its whipping post? How long can we endure our own pain being ignored?
This situation is untenable. It is time for a reckoning. It is time to clear the air and start over. It is time for us all to finally #SayHerName. And until that happens, I’ll be here doing everything in my power to lift up the names and lives of those who we have lost and to build more capacity to do the work that calls me every day — supporting black women. All day. Every day.
You can support the grieving children and family of Charleen Lyles by donating here.