I have not forgotten Ma’Khia Bryant. She should still be here.
Yet the horror of her murder was maintained in the resounding lack of compassion for her humanity. And I am appalled by how the lens of misogynoir quickly shaped public discourse and blurred the vision of some believing that the killing of Ma’Khia Bryant was justified. And there is no possible room to imagine that the officer had any other option for de-escalation except to pump four bullets into her young body.
Some have argued that he saved the life of the other young Black woman—and shouldn’t that matter? And my response is more questions. Did he really save the other person’s life from a potential stab wound? Or did he put her life and the lives of others nearby in jeopardy when deciding to use lethal force instead of non-lethal force?
While painful to write, the truth is too many of us as Black women remember— and too many of our Black girls are now, unfortunately— being faced with the harmful effects of adultification, over-sexualization, anti-Black racism, classism, and misogynoir culminating in continued violence against us.
Black women have historically been disproportionately targeted by white domestic terrorism— terrorism and gender-based violence that society often avoids acknowledging or justifies by scapegoating us, especially Black mothers, for our communities’ structural vulnerability.
Popular narratives create us as the aggressor and enjoy pathologizing our lives to silence and shame us while rendering our humanity invisible. Our bodies are subjected to disproportionate pain and our lives judged expendable.
Just like other communities, it is not uncommon to have to protect ourselves from violence within our communities. Yet, we are not afforded the same opportunities as our white counterparts to seek help, be believed, and receive the care that we deserve. Ma’Khia Bryant does not need to be a “perfect” victim to deserve protection or for all of us to fight for her justice.
As someone who used to work for five years in a safehouse shelter program, as an advocate answering crisis calls and supporting women and children escaping domestic violence with getting much-needed resources, I had my share of moments that required thinking quickly on my feet and figuring out ways to de-escalate arguments and even fights between women.
These women sometimes were suffering from stress and diagnosed PTSD, and I had to keep them from harming each other without access to a weapon. I am not alone in this thought or experience, as some high school educators, counselors, and social workers have all tried to weigh in on this matter and denounce the use of deadly force as the only option.
Law enforcement’s reaction stands in stark contrast to treatment of white domestic terrorists who commit mass killings, acts of insurrection, or armed political intimidation. Police officers apprehend them unharmed and the mainstream media rushes to humanize them with pseudo-psychological analysis of a white male who is a troubled loner and victim of his own impulses.
This was illuminated just a few months ago, here in Atlanta, when the white man who perpetrated the unspeakable, targeted killing of 8 people, with 6 being AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) women, was not only taken into custody alive, but during the press conference soon after the murders, one of the lead law enforcement officers attempted to explain away the motive of this murderous hate crime as the perpetrator having “a sex addiction,” and the day spas being the site of “temptation” he needed to eliminate.
Each instance of police violence or white domestic terrorism is often viewed as the depraved actions of one bad apple or lone wolf. While the brutality in our communities is seen as circumstantial misfortune.
At Women Engaged, everyday my team and I have the privilege of working with young Black women who are just slightly older than Ma’Khia, by developing their civic and political leadership. Remember, it was young Black women and other Gen Z Black Georgia voters, who saved our democracy by voting at a rate of 92% for social change and public health. They not only demonstrated to end police violence against Black people in 2020, but they also registered, organized their peers to vote, and showed up in record numbers to cast their vote in both the 2020 Presidential and the 2021 Senate run-off elections during a pandemic that shored up a victory for progressive change. This change now allows grandparents to reunite with their grandchildren all over this country for the first time in over a year, given the swift vaccination efforts under a new administration.
Yet, instead of being appreciated for their meaningful work, like the broad praise and support given to the mostly white “March for Our Lives” youth organizers, they are reminded daily that their right to live freely is threatened by police because they are Black children. Their right to grow up and be teenagers, make mistakes, and reach out for help is met with, at minimum, resent-filled dismissiveness, and at most, as was in the case of Ma’Khia Bryant, murder just steps from her home.
What gives me hope is what I know as a Black woman, activist, and new mother, we are our own best advocates deserving of respect and support. Black women leaders such as Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw have long since stated that these overlapping systemic issues that leave Black girls uniquely vulnerable demand intersectionality in the analysis, and justice-centered solutions with measures of accountability and consequence to ensure sizable change and to save the lives of our Black girls.
Malika Redmond is the Cofounder and CEO of Women Engaged, a near decade old initiative that develops the civic leadership of Black women, femmes, and girls through year round non-partisan voter engagement opportunities and reproductive justice advocacy. Follow her on Twitter: @malikaredmond @womenengaged