Photograph courtesy of Rachel Woods
How much do we as a society value the lives and experiences of black women and girls?
On November 13, 2014, Tanisha Anderson was experiencing a medical crisis. Her family did what any caring family would do—they called 911 for help. Tanisha died following a “takedown move” performed by a Cleveland police officer. Her death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.
A week later, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer. His 14-year-old sister was tackled and handcuffed by an officer as she ran to Tamir’s aid. The officer that tackled the young girl neglected to administer CPR on her dying brother.
Both incidents happened just a couple of weeks before the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded their investigation into the Cleveland Police Department (CPD). The DOJ determined that it has “reasonable cause to believe that the CPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.” Among the many deficiencies, the DOJ also determined that CPD officers use excessive force on people with mental illness.
Despite these findings, Tanisha’s death and the tackling of Tamir’s sister has gotten lost in the national conversation about police brutality, misconduct, and negligence. This is not new. The abuse that women of color endure at the hands of police often is overlooked and rarely rises to the level of national concern or even media attention.
At a Cleveland forum, Tanisha’s grief stricken mother, Cassandra, said, “I just want justice for my daughter. She was a person.”
When I heard her say those words, I was reminded of other women and girls who were let down by the justice system either by indifference or force.
Crystal Dozier, Tishanna Culver, Le’Shanda Long, Michelle Mason, Tonia Carmichael, Nancy Cobbs, Amelda Hunter, Telacia Fortson, Janice Webb, Kim Yvette Smith and Diane Turner were killed by Anthony Sowell. The families of these women complained that the CPD would not take their missing person reports and “turned them away, leaving them to post fliers, and search for loved ones on their own.”
The testimony of Vanessa Gays, a Sowell survivor, led to The Cleveland Plain Dealer investigation, which revealed that rape kits dating back to the 1950s went untested in the city of Cleveland.
See Jennifer Moore explain how Cleveland Police failed her.
One of the thousands of untested rape kits belonged to Jennifer Moore, who at the age of 12 was kidnapped and raped for three days by seven men. CPD failed to investigate her case and labeled her a runaway.
Alma Perez was shoved by a Cleveland officer when she tried to intervene as her teen son, who has down syndrome, was being attacked by an officer.
Angel Bradley-Crockett's naked body lay on the side of the freeway for hours because the Cleveland officers who were called to investigate drove past her and said that she was a deer.
Some reforms have been enacted.
The Ohio General Assembly recently passed legislation that requires all untested and new rape kits be sent to a lab for testing. Cleveland has revised some of its policies concerning missing persons and sexual assault investigations. But as evidenced by these enduring problems, and the DOJ’s recent report, more reforms are needed.
Tanisha’s sister, Jasmine Johnson, recently said that, “The Cleveland Police Department has failed. It has not only failed my family, but it has failed the people of Cleveland. Negligence, recklessness, poor and inadequate training is the issue here.”
As we consider changing police cultures around the country we must ensure that policies and training protect the rights of all people, including women and girls of color—neglecting to do it is yet another indictment on this broken justice system.