Black women having tough year with policing issues too

Posted at 11:04 AM, Oct 31, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-31 12:11:40-04

WASHINGTON (AP) — Black men are not alone when it comes to difficult relations with the police. Black women are having a tough time too.

From the schoolgirl who was slammed to the floor in a South Carolina classroom to the mysterious death of Sandra Bland inside a Texas jail cell, videos showing black women being manhandled by police are bringing their problems to the forefront at a time when Americans' attention has been focused primarily on the relationship between black men and law enforcement.

Civil rights groups and organizations representing women say closer attention must be paid to what's happening between police and women of color, despite the ongoing fight over incidents of police brutality against black men.

"We cannot continue to wait for something to show up on a video to ask for change," said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women's Roundtable Public Policy Network.

Earlier this week, South Carolina deputy sheriff Ben Fields was fired after flipping a black girl out of her desk and tossing her across the floor for disrupting her math class at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott called Fields' actions "unacceptable," and said videos recorded by her classmates show the girl posed no danger to anyone.

The FBI is investigating whether the student's civil rights were violated, and school district officials are promising to review how police are used for discipline. The student and another black female student who verbally challenged the officer's actions during the arrest still face misdemeanor charges of disturbing schools, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine or 90 days in jail, Lott said.

According to a 2015 report by the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School's Center for Intersectional and Social Policy Studies, black girls were suspended from school six times as often as their white counterparts, and 12 percent of black girls were subjected to exclusionary suspensions in comparison to only 2 percent of white females.

Outside of school, black women are also vulnerable to prison time. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 50 percent of America's female prison population is white and 21 percent is black, and black females are between 1.6 and 4.1 times more likely to be imprisoned than white females.

"We are seeing increasingly more cases where black girls and women are being subjected to abuse and over enforcement. We must start placing more attention on the plight of females in the criminal justice system," Elsie Scott, founding director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard University, said in a statement.

The South Carolina case wasn't the first time a black woman's confrontation with police has made headlines.

In June, a 7-minute video showed McKinney, Texas, Police Cpl. David Eric Casebolt push a bikini-clad black girl to the ground, then brandish his gun at other black teens, after officers responded to complaints about the pool party at a community-owned McKinney swimming pool. Casebolt subsequently resigned from the police force.

An investigation into his conduct by the Texas Rangers is still ongoing, said criminal defense lawyer Darrell Jordan, who is representing some of the families whose children were involved in that incident.

Protests erupted in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last year over the death of Aura Rosser, 40, who was tasered by one officer and shot by another. Officers said Rosser had a kitchen knife and moved toward them after a domestic dispute in her home. They were not charged.

Rosser suffered from mental illness, and had not been taking her medication, officials said. They also found illegal drugs and alcohol in her system. But advocates have questioned why police could not handle her without causing her death.

Police were also not charged after Natasha McKenna, 37, died in February, several days after struggling with Virginia deputies who tried to transfer her to another jail. The naked, mentally ill McKenna was shocked four times with a stun gun by five deputies in biohazard suits before she lost consciousness. Prosecutors did not file charges, calling McKenna's death a "tragic accident."

The case remains the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.

In July, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Chicago-area woman, was found dead in her jail cell three days after being arrested by state Trooper Brian Encinia for failing to signal a lane change in Hempstead, Texas, about 200 miles south of Dallas. Officials say she used a plastic bag to hang herself, a finding her family has questioned.

Bland's death has garnered the most attention, with activists pushing for explanations and demanding justice for female victims of police brutality through the "Black Lives Matter" movement and the #SayHerName social media activism. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders evoked Bland's name during the first Democratic presidential debate after meeting with Bland's mother, and the women who founded the Black Lives Matter organization are pushing for a Democratic debate focused solely on policing issues.

Police brutality doesn't just happen to black men, said Jordan, who also serves on a committee of lawyers appointed by the district attorney reviewing evidence in Bland's death. "This happens to blacks, whites, males, females, everybody," he said.

Campbell argued that it's worse for women. The majority of law enforcement officers are male, she noted, and "the reality of the power dynamic between the average women and man is there."