A Black Doctor’s Death and the Need to Protect Black Women

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All Black women must be centered, including Black women with disabilities, Black trans women, Black mothers, and Black women who are incarcerated. Violence against Black women is a destructive reality that places everyone in danger.

Police brutality is a threat to Black women’s survival.

In 2015 Natasha McKenna, 37, died in a Fairfax County Jail when what she actually needed was support from a mental health professional. McKenna was tased four times by corrections officers, and later died of cardiac arrest. Rekia Boyd was shot and killed by a white off-duty police officer — she was just 22. Kayla Moore, 41, a Black trans woman, died after police were called to her home for a mental health check. Nyshan Beckam was tased by a police officer while sitting on her hands.

Atatiana Jefferson, 28 was killed while playing video games with her nephew — a Fort Worth police officer fired one bullet through Jefferson’s window. Jefferson had hoped to attend medical school — her future was cut short. Breonna Taylor, 26 was killed by police while she slept. Taylor was an ER technician with the intention of furthering her career and starting a family. Like Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor will never realize her dreams.

Violence against Black women is an indication of the disregard and devaluing of Black women’s lives and futures. The dehumanization inherent in this violence assumes that Black women do not feel pain, and this level of violence is needed to terminate “unruliness” and the “threat” that Black women supposedly present. Racist assumptions rooted in propaganda and implicit bias help form false archetypes of Black women.

Black women’s bodies are often “manhandled” in such encounters where women are sat on or groped. Women are violently moved in their environments in ways that expose their bodies and deny their femininity. In some instances, police use their position and power to rape Black women.

Daniel Holtzclaw, a former patrol officer, preyed on Black women from low-income communities, and hoped their vulnerability would enable his continued violence. Holtzclaw assumed his membership of the “police club” would conceal his behavior and allow him to engage in violence with impunity. In 2016, Holtzclaw was sentenced to 263 years in prison for raping Black women. Holtzclaw’s continued involvement in sexual violence is an indication that systemic change — rooted in abolition and not reform — is needed to ensure Black women can live. Even if Holtzclaw committed acts alone, he most likely had enablers who covered for him or turned a “blind eye” to his atrocious behavior. A system that accepts state-sanctioned violence as a norm, is one that is too diseased to be healed. Such a system needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with Black women at the helm.

Hospitals can function as a threat to Black women’s safety. In July 2020, Sha-Asia Washington, 26 died during childbirth prompting outrage about her death. Further, Black women doctors are not immune to racism from their own professional community. Dr. Susan Moore, 52 died earlier this month from complications of Covid-19 after complaining about the racism inherent in her medical treatment. A healthcare provider herself, Dr. Moore provided an analysis of the ways in which her treatment fell short on social media.

For many Black women, their learning history has led to a critical analysis of healthcare systems, as well as escape and avoidant behavior. A system that allows the dispute of one’s pain, when pain is a subjective experience is explicitly problematic. Healthcare systems must function with the aim of meeting the needs of everyone it purports to serve, including Black women.

Indeed, there are constructs in place — police unions, the criminal injustice system, healthcare systems, and the prison-industrial-complex to name just a few — that threaten Black women’s freedom and security.

Black women want to do more than survive, they want to live.

We must protect Black women at all costs not only because humanity depends on it, but because it is the right thing to do.

Jacqueline Bediako is a womanist, school administrator, writer and behaviorist who lives with her partner in New York City.

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