Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know
By: Lisa M. Hayes
Several years ago, I started and ran a statewide police accountability initiative campaign. This campaign was widely considered to be “anti-police.” While that might be debatable, I can see how it was perceived that way. The initiative was intended to strongly limit the circumstances under which a law enforcement officer could legally use deadly force.
The campaign was on a shoestring budget. We did not have an office, so a lot of it ran out of my home. Although we used a PO Box for some protection, my name was on the paperwork for the state. I spoke very publicly at every event I could find and in every meeting I could get a seat in, ranging from state political fundraising picnics to Union meetings all across Washington State.
White supremacy groups hated this initiative. They became very vocal and visible, regularly showing up at protests and rallies. Obviously, cops and police unions also strongly opposed it.
My campaign email address routinely got unsettling emails, often graphic and threatening – and often explicitly directed at my family or me. At first, I ignored all of it.
Then one day, it happened. Someone, I did not know contacted me about needing supplies to collect signatures. He referenced having worked on several other campaigns I was familiar with. He seemed anxious to get to work. So, in a potentially catastrophic slip of judgment, I gave him my address to come pick up supplies.
I met him on my porch and handed him a requested box of supplies. We chatted for a minute or two as I gave him some basic instructions. As he turned to leave, he set the box of supplies on the ground, looked over his shoulder, and said, “Now I know where you live.” He walked away empty-handed with a smile.
My heart dropped because I knew in that moment how stupid I’d been. I called people from the campaigns he claimed he’d worked with, and no one knew who he was.
In horror, I locked all the doors, pulled all the curtains, and made two phone calls. One of those calls was to my husband at work. The other call was direct to the personal cell phone of the local Chief of police.
There I was, shaking and crying to the Chief of police about how terrified I was over a mistake I’d made regarding my safety in a political campaign most people believed was directly oppositional to the police department. He was the Chief of a police department I had openly and publicly condemned for its role in more than one deadly force incident. I’d been quoted by the media attacking his department multiple times.
I told him about the threatening emails I’d been receiving. I gave him the info on the man I’d invited to my house. I admitted I knew how stupid I’d been. The Chief of police ordered a patrol car to sit in front of my house until my husband got home.
The Chief also assigned me a detective who reviewed all of the threatening emails I’d received and would receive in the months to come. That detective researched the people who were sending the threats to ensure they didn’t have ties to organized racist or militant groups.
The man who’d come to my home was identified within 48 hours. Although he’d broken no laws, he was visited by the local sheriff’s department and told never to return to my house. On more than one occasion, officers were dispatched to the homes of people who had threatening emails.
Pickup trucks with confederate flags flying from the back started driving by my home and honking. As the weeks passed, police increased our neighborhood patrols to meet my growing anxiety.
The police department bent over backward to ensure the safety of a white woman doing work that was decidedly anti-police and very public.
I remember it with crystal clarity because the date stood out for several reasons. One year later, to the day, about an hour from where I lived, Charleena Lyles, a black woman, called 911. She was home alone with her small children and believed someone was actively trying to break into her home. She retreated to her kitchen, terrified, clutching a knife, and waited for the police.
Two white police officers responded. Within 5 seconds of entering her apartment, they shot her multiple times, killing her in front of her children. Lyles had a history of mental illness issues that the police used to justify murdering her. Her family won a 3.5 million dollars wrongful death civil suit against the Seattle PD. The officers who killed her were not disciplined and are still on the job.
Unfortunately, this scenario is not uncommon. If a person of color wants to avoid being killed by the police the only way to be certain is to avoid contact with the police. For women of color, in particular, needing help from the police can be deadly.
In a system designed around the safety of white women, the protection of white women is always THE priority. Protecting black women is a whole other matter. Our systems do not prioritize the safety of women of color; at times, our systems are designed so that the security of women of color is knowingly and intentionally compromised.
And the black men…
The black men who love black women often feel like the ONLY barrier between the women they love and the risks they cannot ever fully protect them from.
The phrase “protect black women” doesn’t mean much to white people because the safety of white women is built into our societal systems. We can’t comprehend what it is like NOT to be protected.
Failing to protect black women has real life and death consequences because in a system that is bent in ways that cause them harm, women of color are usually left to fend for themselves, even when the stakes are life and death.
More than a week after the slapping incident heard around the world, I am STILL seeing women, almost always white women, rabidly talking about:
How insulted they would be if their man resorted to violence over a verbal jab
How violence is never the answer
How pro-Jada they are, but still calling it a vanity issue
Editorializing how and when protecting black women is appropriate.
As a general rule, judging is always toxic and gross.
However, for real, none of us has any business judging something we do not understand.
That said, whether we understand it or not, there is a massive gap between systems that ensure a white woman’s safety and protecting black women. It is just a fact. Why and how someone steps in to fill that gap, I do not get to have an opinion about from my vantage of privilege.
I don’t know why Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. There is no way I can understand it because my lived experience as a white woman might cause me to think it was a gross over-reaction BUT I am not a black woman. And I do not know how a black man would respond when he experiences his wife as unprotected.
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