Black Women and Girls Killed by Police: The Incomplete Stories of #SayHerName
Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old EMT who was killed when Louisville Metro police mistakenly entered her home in the middle of the night on a no-knock warrant, purportedly as part of a narcotics investigation. Although the LMPD claim they suspected a man involved in a drug ring was receiving drug packages at Breonna’s address, neither Breonna nor Kenneth were named in the search warrant. The suspect they were searching for had already been detained. Just before 1 a.m. on March 13, 2020 Breonna and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker were jolted from bed by a loud banging at the door of the apartment unit. Startled and fearing that their home was being broken into, the two asked who was banging on the door, but the police didn’t identify themselves. The door exploded open soon afterward; the police had used a battering ram to burst through. Walker, a licensed gun owner, fired one gunshot in self-defense and hit Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly in the thigh. The three named Louisville Metro police officers fired over 20 rounds, shooting Breonna 8 times and killing her in the hall of her apartment. Breonna was unarmed and had no criminal history, despite early news reports and initial efforts by the city to depict her as a “suspect.” No drugs were recovered from the apartment. The officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave. They have yet to be charged or prosecuted for her killing.
Kathryn Johnston was 92 years old when undercover police shot and killed her in her home during a botched drug raid. When officers arrived unannounced at her home and attempted to enter, Johnston fired a shot in self-defense. It went through the screen door but it hit no one. In response, the police opened fire and released 39 bullets, several of which hit Johnston. Afterward, the three Atlanta police officers tried to cover up the fact that the incident was based on an inaccurate report of drug activity in Johnston’s home. One officer planted marijuana in Johnston’s house and cocaine in the evidence file. All three officers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 5 to 10 years for conspiracy to violate civil rights resulting in death. Two of the officers were further charged with voluntary manslaughter and making false statements. The city of Atlanta paid a $4.8 million settlement to Johnston’s family.
Korryn Gaines- On August 1, 2016, Baltimore County police arrived at the Randallstown, Maryland apartment of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines to serve a warrant alleging that she had failed to appear in court. Gaines, who had miscarried twins as a consequence of improper treatment while being held in connection with a traffic stop, had received paperwork for the stop that did not provide the date on which she was expected to appear. A month prior to the day officers descended on her home, Gaines had visited the police station seeking clarification about her court date, only to be told that the officer who had issued the paperwork was unavailable. When Gaines noticed police attempting to force entry that day in August, she sat down in her living room with a legally owned firearm, and a 6-hour standoff ensued. Officer Royce Ruby, Jr. fired at Gaines from outside her apartment, then entered the apartment and shot Gaines three more times. One of the bullets passed through Gaines and wounded her young son, who survived but sustained lifelong disabling injuries. County prosecutors concluded that the killing of Gaines was justified, and Officer Ruby was not criminally charged.
Atatiana “Tay” Jefferson was 28-years-old when Fort Worth police shot and killed her. At the time she was murdered, Jefferson had been playing video games with her 8-year-old neighbor. Police came to her home after a neighbor called the non-emergency number to report that Jefferson’s front door had been left open. When police arrived, Jefferson went to the window to see who was outside her home. When Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean saw Jefferson’s silhouette in the window, he shot and killed her. Dean was later arrested and indicted for murder.
Tanisha Anderson 37 years old when she was killed on November 13, 2014 during an encounter with police as her family watched from their home. Growing up, Tanisha had excelled as a student, and aspired to become a broadcast journalist. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 20s, and began taking medication. On a cold night in Cleveland, Tanisha became disoriented and repeatedly tried to leave the house without shoes and wearing only a nightgown. Her brother called the police for help, but instead of an ambulance, two sets of police officers arrived. What should have been a routine mental health call turned deadly when one of the arresting officers used a takedown move and kneeled on Tanisha’s back. Tanisha’s heart disease and bipolar disorder were factors that heightened her vulnerability to the police’s violent tactics. She arrived at the hospital in cardiopulmonary arrest and could not be revived. Her death was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury cleared Cleveland police officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers of all wrongdoing. Shortly before Anderson passed, the U.S. Justice Department released a report that found that Cleveland police lack the proper training to navigate encounters with residents with mental illness. The report found that officers resort to using force against the mentally and medically unwell in lieu of de-escalation techniques.
Michelle Cusseaux was 50 years old when she was tragically murdered by the police in her own home in August 2014 when they came for a mental health wellness check. Under Arizona’s first responder law, multiple uniformed police officers arrived unannounced and with guns pulled. After Michelle refused to let the police in her home, Sergeant Percy Durpa pried open the locked security door, and was met with Michelle holding a hammer in her hands. Dupra claimed that he felt threatened, although no threats were made, shot her in the heart. Her mother and sister have explained that Michelle had the hammer, along with several other tools, with her in the living room because she was changing the locks in her home. When the paramedics arrived to take Michelle to the hospital they took her in for medical treatment at the hospital across town, instead of the one a few minutes away.
Charleena Lyles called the police to report an attempted burglary at her home. She was shot and killed by officers responding to her call, after officers said she displayed a knife upon their arrival to her home. She was three months pregnant with her fourth child when she was killed by Seattle Police on June 18, 2017. Charleena supposedly had a longstanding history of mental health problems. She was 30 years old.
Pearlie Golden was killed by the Hearne police officers on May 7, 2014. Police officer Stephen Stem fatally shot Pearlie Golden, a 93-year-old woman, after her nephew called to report that she was waving a gun. Her nephew said that Golden was upset because he had taken her car keys after she failed a driving test. When Stem saw the elderly woman waving the gun around, he fired 4-5 rounds at her, hitting her at least twice. Four days later he was fired from the police department. A grand jury failed to indict him for Golden’s killing.
Kayla Moore, a 41-year-old Black transgender woman, was killed by Berkeley police who came to her home in response to a call for help from her roommate on February 12, 2013. Her roommate had summoned police because Kayla was experiencing a mental health crisis. Instead of escorting Kayla to a medical facility as requested, the officers attempted to arrest her on a warrant for a man 20 years her senior, who had the same name she was given at birth. Several officers overpowered Kayla in her own bedroom, suffocating her to death in the process. Afterward, officers delayed monitoring her vital signs, referred to her using transgender slurs, and failed to administer adequate life-saving treatment. Kayla’s body was also exposed during and after the police assault. Her last words were “I can’t breathe.”
Duanna Johnson was a Black woman living in Memphis who had been turned away from jobs, drug treatment, and every shelter in the city because she was transgender. Johnson was profiled and arrested for prostitution as she walked down the street one night, even though there was no alleged client and no documented exchange of money for sex. Booking Officer Bridges McRae called her “faggot” and “he-she.” When she refused to answer to the slurs, McRae put on gloves, wrapped a pair of handcuffs around his knuckles and savagely beat her about the face and head while Officer James Swain held her down. McRae then pepper-sprayed her, pushed her to the floor and handcuffed her. Security video captured the entire incident. McCrae was federally prosecuted, pled to a single count of violating Johnson’s civil rights after a mistrial, and sentenced to two years in prison for both John- son’s beating and tax evasion. Johnson was later found dead, shot execution style, the third Black transgender woman to be killed in Memphis in two years. Her killing remains unsolved.
India Kager was a 27-year-old Black woman, was shot and killed by Virginia Beach Police on September 5, 2015, while in a car with her 4-month-old son. Four officers fired 30 rounds in under 15 seconds into the car killing India and Angelo Perry, who was driving the car. Her baby, Roman, survived the shooting. Police officers had allegedly tailed Perry for several days believing him to be planning to commit a violent crime. India, a postal service worker and navy veteran, was not involved in any criminal activity. India had another son, Evan, who was four when he lost his mother. Since her daughter’s death, Gina has sought to raise awareness around police brutality. Gina describes her daughter as “a beautiful soul” who was “very supportive, contemplative, highly gifted and extremely articulate.” India attended Duke Ellington School of Arts in Washington DC, where she focused on visual arts. After her service attended art school in Virginia. She came from a family of police officers.
Aiyana Stanley-Jones was 7 years old when she was shot and killed by Detroit police. Officer Joseph Weekley shot and killed seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in her sleep during a raid on her grandmother’s home. Weekly claimed that he pulled the trigger accidentally during a struggle with the girl’s grandmother, Mertilla Jones. Jones claimed that she was reaching out to protect her granddaughter and another officer testified that there was no struggle over the weapon. Weekley was tried twice and cleared of all charges, most recently in January 2015. He returned to work in April 2015.
Rekia Boyd was 22 years old when she was fatally shot by off-duty Chicago police detective Dante Servin as she was standing in an alley with friends. When Servin told them to quiet down words were exchanged with one of Boyd’s friends, and Servin, seated in his car, then fired five rounds from his gun into the group, whose backs were turned to him at the time, hitting Boyd in the back of the head. A friend who rushed to hold and comfort the bleeding young woman was threatened with arrest and forced to step away from the mortally wounded Boyd as she lay in the street. Boyd was removed from life support two days later. Servin continued to work for the Chicago Police Department until he was officially charged with involuntary manslaughter and the reckless discharge of a firearm. His trial was held in April 2015, and the judge issued a directed verdict effectively clearing Servin of all charges. The legal reasoning for the judge’s decision – that Servin’s actions were intentional rather than reckless, and, therefore, he could not be convicted of involuntary manslaughter – has been critiqued by legal scholars on all sides of the bar. In 2013, the City of Chicago awarded Boyd’s family a $4.5 million wrongful death settlement.
Shelly Frey was 27 years old when she was killed in a Walmart parking lot by an off-duty police who was working as store security. Louis Campbell, a deputy sheriff and Houston area minister, shot and killed Shelly on December 6, 2012 in an attempt to apprehend her friend who he suspects to be shoplifting from a Walmart store. After entering their car, where her friend’s two children were waiting for them, Shelly was shot twice in the neck through the car window. Campbell later claimed that he fired shots in self-defense because the driver had attempted to run him over. After Shelly was shot, neither the driver nor the police sought medical attention for her. Her body was left in the car for eight hours. If Shelly received immediate medical attention, she would likely have survived.
Eleanor Bumpus was 66 years old when she was killed by NYC police officers on October 29, 1984. Police arrived at the Bronx home of Eleanor Bumpurs, a 66-year-old grandmother, in response to a city-ordered eviction notice. She was four months behind on her monthly rent of $98.65. When she refused to open the door for the police, the officers broke into her apartment. In the struggle to subdue her, an officer fatally shot Bumpurs twice with a 12-gauge shotgun. In March 1990, the city of New York, as part of a settlement agreement, agreed to pay $200,000 to Bumpurs’ estate. Bumpurs was one of the first Black women whose death prompted protests, but her case never served to drive our collective analysis of the causes and contexts of police violence.
Mya Hall was a Black transgender woman killed by National Security Agency (NSA) police just weeks before Freddie Gray’s case garnered national headlines on March 30, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Alleged to be driving a stolen car, she took a wrong turn onto NSA property and was shot to death by officers after the car crashed into the security gate and a police cruiser. No effort to use non-lethal force was made even though there was no threat to the facility, and no one in the vehicle was armed. Friends remembered Hall as a kind and caring woman struggling to make ends meet in the face of entrenched structural discrimination against Black transgender women.
Miriam Carey was a 34-year-old dental hygienist and suburban mother who was killed by federal agents after she allegedly sped away from a White House checkpoint on October 3, 2013. Secret Service officers claimed that they approached her and told her to stop at the checkpoint site and that she refused to do so. Valarie Carey, Miriam’s sister, and her attorney, Eric Sanders, claim that the official report of the incident shows that the altercation actually started when an undercover agent moved a large object into Carey’s path, and she swerved to avoid him, hitting a barricade instead. They say that Carey likely tried to drive off from the scene out of fear, and became increasingly frantic as officers chased and shot at her from behind. Officers fired several shots as they pursued her, and they continued to fire even after her car had stopped. She was hit in the back of her head, three times in the back and once on her left arm. Her one-year-old baby was in the car with her. No charges have been filed against the officers.
Sandra Bland was 28 years old when she was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change on July 10, 2015. As a video of her arrest shows, she was pinned to the ground and surrounded by police officers. Bland was heard questioning the officers about why they had slammed her head to the ground, and complaining that she could not hear. Officers charged her with assault and held her in the Waller County Jail. Bland was found dead in her cell three days later. Bland had recently driven from suburban Chicago to Texas to begin a new job at her alma mater, Texas Prairie View A & M. Officials maintain that her death was a suicide, but Bland’s friends and family members adamantly reject this explanation and suspect foul play.
Natasha McKenna was 37 years old when she died in the hospital several days after she was Tased by officers in the Fairfax County Jail. McKenna, who weighed 130 pounds, was already restrained with handcuffs behind her back, leg shackles, and a hood when a sheriff’s deputy shocked her four times. She suffered from mental illness and officers used a Taser on her even though its use is not recommended on people in mental health crises. Officers claimed she was being uncooperative, which led them to restrain and then Tase her. Within minutes of being Tased McKenna stopped breathing. When her mother visited her in the hospital her body was covered in bruises, both of her eyes were blackened, and one of her fingers was missing. She died a few days later. Her killing was recorded on video, happening six months after Michael Brown. Her last words were, “You promised you wouldn’t kill me.”
Kyam Livingston was left in a holding cell by NYPD officers after they arrested her for fighting with her grandmother in Brooklyn, NY. While in custody, Livingston complained of cramps and diarrhea, but officers ignored her pleas for help, and those of people held in the cell with her for hours. After Livingston spent 20 hours in the cell, police finally called for medical assistance when they claimed to notice that she was suffering from “apparent seizures.” She was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. A medical examiner found that the cause of death was an alcohol-induced seizure. She was 37 years old and a mother of two. In 2013, Livingston’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Among other initiatives, the AAPF supports a #SayHerName Mothers Network and offers a partial but nonetheless comprehensive list of resources on a structural analysis of race, gender, and punitive policing, including books, articles, and essays, and videos by Angela Davis, John Duda and Mariame Kaba, and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, among others.