Justice League NYC activists traveled on Monday to the Department of Justice to rally and bring awareness to the lives of women of color killed while in police custody with no clear answers from the Department of Justice or local police officials. The small but diverse group demanded answers in the Sandra Bland case and a host of others, including Raynette Turner, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Ralkina Jones and other unnamed and unknown women of color. Speakers spoke about a national emergency and rejected the idea that these women dying while in police custody are individual incidents.
Sandra Bland at 28 years old died in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas on July 13 after a traffic stop for failing to signal she was changing lanes. Her death while ruled a suicide leaves more questions than answers. While jail guards state that Bland may have had a prior attempt suicide, jail guards made no attempt to keep her safe.
Native American Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a 24 year old mother of two children ages 1 and 2, arrested on a bond violation in South Dakota complained of excruciating pain to her jailers. Instead of protecting and helping her, her jailers stated, “quit faking” and “knock it off”. She died July 6 after being found unconscious in her cell and later taken to a hospital.
The death of 18 year old Kindra Chapman of Alabama, also like Bland’s ruled a suicide by hanging, came after she was arrested and jailed for allegedly stealing a cell phone from another person. Chapman died July 14.
Joyce Curnell, 50 was found dead on July 23 at a Charleston County facility after being arrested for shoplifting. Cleveland Police arrested Ralkina Jones, 37 following a domestic dispute with her ex-husband on July 24. Two days later, she lay dead in her Cleveland Heights jail cell
Raynette Turner, mother of 8 and wife of Herman Turner for 23 years, landed in a Mount Vernon, NY jail after being arrested for allegedly shoplifting from a grocery store on July 25. Her arraignment was scheduled two days later on July 27. She never made it. She was dead by that afternoon in a holding cell awaiting her arraignment. Her husband waited all afternoon for her to be arraigned.
And these are a few of the women of color known to have died while in police custody—in July. Although the name of Sandra Bland and her video police encounter is widely known, these other women of color who lost their lives in July barely received any media mention. And the Twitter hashtag was started with #SayHerName to recognize that women of color have died while at the hands of police. It is not solely black men who die while in the custody of police. These women’s names and lives matter.
The investigations into these women’s death varies. The questions still outweigh the answers. And justice eludes these cases. Keeping attention on these women and saying their names will help propel answers and hopefully justice.
Rally speakers represented on Monday were from the Justice League NYC, Black Women’s Roundtable, Avis Jones-Deweever, Tamika D. Mallory, Rev. Willie Wilson, Rev. Jamal Bryant and a host of others. While commending Loretta Lynch as the first black woman to be confirmed as U.S. Attorney, Rev. Jamal Bryant stated to her this is a code red situation. Bryant sought answers of what would be the outcry if 6 Caucasian women died under police custody. Speakers demanded to know how many resources and lawyers are being allocated to address this crisis. Bryant engaged the crowd to lift up their voices as one collective group of conscious effort until justice is reached. Justice League NYC also had representatives from the hip hop artist community in support of the cause.
The event is a preamble of many more similar events to come in various cities throughout the U.S. Another similar event will be held in Baltimore on August 15.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor. She also contributes to the Women’s Media Center.