As the police shooting of unarmed African-American teen Mike Brown reached a peak, folks began to question the ethnic makeup of the Ferguson, Missouri police force responsible both for his death and for later intimidating and harassing protesters. Ferguson’s police force is majority white, whereas the town itself is made up primarily of African-American residents, prompting activists to speak out about the racial undertones often underlying acts of police brutality targeted at people of color. (Ellie Smeal, FMF’s Founder and President, echoed those sentiments when she called for police reform and the appointment of a special prosecutor in Ferguson.)
A lack of racial diversity, however, is not the only factor that can feed police brutality; a lack of gender diversity can also create police forces in which officers aren’t treating the communities they serve with the proper procedure and respect.
Now, Ms. magazine is rightly asking: where are the women police in Ferguson, and how could a more diverse police force have altered what happened in Ferguson?
Images from Ferguson, Missouri, have filled TV and computer screens around the country since the tragic killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson—everywhere we’ve looked we’ve seen vulnerability and anger, chaos and peaceful resistance, tragedy and triumph. But we couldn’t help but notice there seems to be one thing missing in the deluge of photos and videos: There are next to no women law enforcement officials on the streets of the St. Louis suburb.
We called the city’s police department and, according to a spokeswoman, just five of the city’s 53 police officers are women. Only three of the 53 are African American, in a town that’s 67 percent black.
This matters. Had more women been on the scene during the demonstrations following the 18 year old’s death, things might have looked very different.