By Shalini Eddens, Director of Programs, Urgent Action Fund
May 21, 2015
Yesterday, on a balmy spring evening in Manhattan’s Union Square, with the sound of Hari Krishna’s chanting in the background, and tourists peering out of the large windows of Forever 21, A vigil was held to honor the lives – and raise the visibility of – Black women and girls who have died at the hands of police.
The names of 8 women were spoken – Alberta Spruil, Rekia Boyd, Shantel Davis, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseax and Tanisha Anderson. Their family members called out their names, describing them as always smiling, the life of the party, warm and generous in spirit, and in the prime of her life. Their photos were held and passed to the stage by community members, as one woman spoke, “Who will hold our sisters?”
I began my first day with Urgent Action Fund in its Oakland office, on November 21, 2014 the day of the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict. Three months prior – the same week that Michael Brown was murdered – a police officer in Phoenix killed 50-year-old Michelle Cusseaux, a Black woman who suffered from mental health issues, while trying to serve a mental health order.
How are we holding the police, our government, and our own communities accountable for respecting and uplifting the lives of ALL Black and Brown lives, if the lives of women and girls are excluded from the conversation?
After the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict, Oakland, like many cities across the country, erupted in anger, in protest, in a loud cry for respect and justice. “Justice for Mike Brown,” and, “Black Lives Matter,” echoed across the city as demonstrators marched down streets and freeways to express our collective outrage at the targeted violence against people of color by authorities. Yet, Michelle Cusseaux’s name was not heard amidst the chants….
This is not an isolated omission. While Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant and Eric Garner have become part of the narrative on police brutality and structural racism in the U.S., the names of the many Black and Brown women who have died at the hands of police remain nearly invisible.
How are we holding the police, our government, and our own communities accountable for respecting and uplifting the lives of ALL Black and Brown lives, if the lives of women and girls are excluded from the conversation? Where are the protests and marches for the now 11 trans* women who have been killed unlawfully in 2015, with no recourse for their families or communities?
As a funder of justice and equality, Urgent Action Fund is committed to standing in solidarity with, and supporting, women and trans* movements that uplift the resiliency of their communities. While most of our grantmaking is directed to support women’s and LBGTQ organizations and activists outside of the U.S., on that day, as we heard helicopters swarming overhead and voices rising just outside our door, we made a conscious decision to do something.
As an organization based in Oakland with an international staff and board, where the personal is political, and the local is global, we must be an ally in this movement for human rights and justice in the United States.
…On that day, as we heard helicopters swarming overhead and voices rising just outside our door, we made a conscious decision to do something.
Since then, we have granted 7 rapid response grants to women and trans* led organizations across the country – in New York, Denver, San Francisco, Oakland and New Orleans – who are mobilizing their communities for justice, and lifting up the lives of women of color who have been murdered by the state.
As I listened to the voices and the stories yesterday, tears streamed down my face. I thought of my own sisters, my cousins, my family. My emotions raw and visceral, I scanned the crowd and saw signs that read “Enough”, “Not One More.” I cringed as the mother of Shelly Frey struggled to find the words to explain to Shelly’s two daughters that their mother was gone. If there is any doubt that police brutality is a reproductive justice issue, reflect on the life of Shelly Frey who was not afforded a safe and secure environment to raise her children.
Let’s shift the narrative on police brutality to raise the visibility of Black, Brown, and trans* women. Silence is an act of violence, so let us speak up and say their name.
As Alicia Garza, one of the founders of #BlackLivesMatter, says, “The narrative is everything in movement building and organizing.” Let’s shift the narrative on police brutality to raise the visibility of Black, Brown, and trans* women. Silence is an act of violence, so let us speak up and say their name. #SayHerName