The shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer on Saturday has sparked days of protests in and around the St. Louis suburb and has called national attention to continued and persistent police violence in African-American communities. Less focus, however, has been placed on how this police violence is directly linked to African-American women’s struggle for reproductive justice.
Michael Brown’s death brought immediate reaction from residents in Ferguson, where African-Americans make up 65 percent of the population. Protesters marched peacefully to the Ferguson police department on Sunday morning, but by Sunday night, with tensions high, riots broke out. SWAT teams and police in riot gear descended. Police were captured on video by CNN saying, “Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!” The Ferguson police department, with 53 commissioned officers, has only five non-white officers, of which three are black. The department has only three women officers.
Protests in Ferguson have been ongoing since Sunday, with protesters holding their arms in the air, chanting “Hands up! Don’t Shoot!” Police have reportedly used tear gas and rubber bullets on some protesters. Cell phone video has now been circulated showing police slamming a six-month pregnant woman to the ground.
“Speechless,” Imani Gandy, senior legal analyst at RH Reality Check, tweeted in response to the images. “I’m going to say it again: police brutality – especially against pregnant women – is a #reprojustice issue.”
Gandy told the Feminist Newswire she was astonished by the silence from larger national reproductive rights organizations in response to the recent police-involved fatalities. Gandy said she wanted to encourage the entire feminist movement to recognize the situation in Ferguson as inextricably tied to the broader fight for reproductive rights, a fight that includes the right of mothers to parent and bear children.
“Step up and say, ‘It’s not cool to throw this pregnant woman on the ground,'” Gandy said. “I’m really trying to force reproductive rights folks to broaden their scope.” Gandy said she observed many people on social media expressing panic about Brown’s death. “They’re saying things like, ‘As soon as I get pregnant, I’m leaving the country’ or ‘I don’t want to make them a target,'” she said.
“Black women are raising children and fearing that their children are going to be gunned down in the street. That affects their ability to parent freely,” continued Gandy. “That’s a real hardship for a lot of people. You have to sit down and tell your nine-year old this is how you have to interact with the police. That’s stressful.”
In a longer piece for RH Reality Check ahead of the Ferguson police-involved shooting, Emma Akpan underscored the same message as she described criticism of women of color who embraced organizing around the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. “We cannot tell women of color what issues are important to them,” Akpan wrote. “Implying that the grief of losing Trayvon Martin is not a women’s issue erases the experience of Black mothers across the United States. Facing stark realities, Black mothers have to raise their sons with mistrust of the police and constantly remind them how to avoid violence and arrest.”
On Monday, the FBI launched a formal civil rights investigation into Michael Brown’s shooting. In a statement, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the shooting deserved a “fulsome review.” He added, “In addition to the local investigation already underway, FBI agents from the St. Louis field office, working together with attorneys from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and US Attorneys’ Office, have opened a concurrent, federal inquiry.” President Obama issued a short statement yesterday calling Brown’s death “heartbreaking.”
Media Resources: CBS-St. Louis 8/12/14; LA Times 8/12/14; Huffington Post 8/12/14; Vimeo; Twitter.com 8/11/14; RH Reality Check 8/5/14; Washington Post 8/12/14; US Department of Justice Press Release 8/11/14; The White House 8/12/14; Feminist Newswire 8/11/14