Yesterday the Washington Post published a story titled “Since 2015: 48 Black Women Killed by the Police. And Only 1 Charge.” The story itself connect the lack of charges in the Breonna Taylor case to the wider argument that police are not held accountable when they kill, in this case, black women. The story quotes Linda Sarsour claiming this is a “miscarriage of justice.”
“This is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice I’ve seen in about 25 years,” said Linda Sarsour, a political activist who was among the crowd in Louisville when the announcement came down. “I’m remembering a quote by Malcolm X: ‘The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.’”
The claim made in the headline is eventually made in the story itself and we also find out exactly where these figures come from:
While fewer women than men are killed by the police overall, the conviction rate is low in those cases, too, particularly for Black women. Since 2015, nearly 250 women in total have been killed by police officers, of which 48 — about a fifth — were Black, according to a Washington Post database.
So the general outlines of this story (announced in the headline) is that charges were warranted in Taylor’s case but that the lack of them isn’t surprising because police who kill black women are rarely charged (1 out of 48).
What the story never bothers to do is look at any of the details of the cases it is waving around as proof. It’s not hard to go to the Post database and identify the exact 48 cases being discussed. If you do that, here’s what you find:
- Yuvette Henderson: “The 38-year-old woman who was shot and killed by Emeryville police Tuesday outside of Home Depot pointed a revolver at a security officer after being caught shoplifting, then tried to carjack at least three cars at gunpoint before pointing the weapon at police, the department said Wednesday.”
- Janisha Fonville: “Police said she lunged at an officer with a knife, though her girlfriend disputed that.”
- Monique Jenee Deckard: “A 43-year-old Anaheim woman was identified as the one shot and killed by Anaheim police officers Sunday night after they say she charged at them with two knives, officials said.”
- Megan Hockaday: “A 26-year-old woman was killed in an officer-involved shooting after confronting an Oxnard police officer with a knife Friday morning.”
- Mya Hall: “The FBI on Tuesday identified Ricky Shawatza Hall, 27, as one of the two men in a Ford Escape that police fired at as the vehicle plowed into a police cruiser just outside the NSA’s Fort Meade campus. Authorities did not offer more details about how he died.”
- Alexia Christian: “Christian was shot and killed by two Atlanta police officers on April 30, 2015. Police say she stole a truck. When she was arrested, police say she managed to free herself from handcuffs in the back of a squad car. They say Christian shot at the officers with a handgun she’d somehow held onto. The officers fired back.”
- Redel Jones: “A female suspect allegedly armed with a knife was shot by Los Angeles police responding to a strong-arm robbery call at a pharmacy in the Crenshaw District Wednesday afternoon.”
- India Kager: “On September 5, 2015, Kager drove Perry from Maryland to Virginia Beach. SWAT officers planned a vehicle takedown procedure against Perry. Perry was a known violent criminal, guilty of shootings, robbery, and homicide…When Kager pulled into a 7-Eleven, a police vehicle hit the back of Kager’s car, officers descended, threw a flash grenade and smashed the windows. Perry started shooting at officers and officers returned fire.”
- Marquesha McMillan: “Police said Marquesha McMillan of Northeast Washington had opened fire on officers Monday morning in the parking lot behind Morris Miller Wines and Liquors, at Alaska and Georgia avenues NW.”
- Bettie Jones: “Bettie Jones, 55, a first-floor tenant, was also fatally shot, apparently by accident, as she tried to answer a shared front door for the arriving officers.”
- Janet Wilson: “The woman again tried to flee, almost running over an officer in the process, Shaw said. “At that moment in time, traffic cleared, she was able to accelerate, almost striking one of the officers who was on foot,” Shaw said. “And one of the on scene officers discharged their duty weapon, striking the suspect and killing them.”
- Sahlah Ridgeway: “Fowler said Ridgeway was armed with a sawed-off shotgun when she was confronted by police. When she refused to drop the weapon, an officer shot her, Fowler said.”
There are 36 more women on this list but I don’t have time to include all of them here. But the ones I’ve listed above are not cherry-picked but in chronological order. Overall, 18 of the 48 cases involved a woman armed with a gun (plus 2 more where a toy gun was involved.) In addition, another 10 cases involved women armed with a knife and 8 where they were behind the wheel of a car. In seven cases the women were unarmed though in some of those cases (#8) she was with someone who was armed and shooting at police at the time she was killed.
My point is not that all of these incidents show that the police acted correctly, much less perfectly. In some cases, like #10, police clearly screwed up. In some of these cases the city settled wrongful death lawsuits. But in some of these cases it’s not at all clear police did anything wrong.
So to simply throw out a headline that says 48 black women were shot in 5 years and only 1 officer was charged doesn’t really give anyone any realistic information about what transpired in those 48 cases. Some of them were justified shootings. Some were clearly mistakes. And many were more complicated situations not unlike the shooting of Breonna Taylor where her death clearly wasn’t her fault but also wasn’t unprovoked aggression on the part of police (they were shot at first by Taylor’s boyfriend).
Elsewhere in the post, Radley Balko argues that while the shooting of Taylor was a cascade or errors and failures at several levels, “the decision to charge Detective Brett Hankison with wanton endangerment was probably correct, as was the decision not to charge the other officers involved in the shooting.”
It’s one thing to argue that a careful look at these shootings can point the way to real improvements in the system. It’s another to wave them like a bloody flag and suggest the only answer here is that all of these shootings were unjust and police are routinely getting away with murder. That’s not a realistic or nuanced view, it’s just more resistance journalism aimed at pleasing a specific audience.