The truth is, the death of Mike Brown is not unusual. Black bodies appear to be disposable in the American psyche, and black men are major targets of police violence. Most of the time when a black man is the target of violence at the hands of the police, few of us outside their communities hear about it. But when cases are elevated to the mainstream, they are usually men or boys who are deemed “innocent” — which then is called into question by media outlets who seek to construct them as thugs (see #IfTheyGunnedMeDown). But an important question here is who is even allowed the privilege of being constructed as an innocent, ever?
How are the deaths and beatings of women — cis and trans — at the hands of the police or with their complicity so much less compelling? I think the obvious answer here is misogyny and transmisogyny, not on one specific occasion or by one specific person, but at the systemic level: what tweets get tweeted and retweeted, what events seem newsworthy, and what bodies are deemed to hold value.
I want to mourn the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, and I want to question why the deaths of Renisha McBride and Islan Nettles and Kathryn Johnston haven’t gotten similar traction. Why the beating of Marlene Pinnock isn’t on all of our lips. Why the nation is not familiar with the names of Stephanie Maldonado, or of Ersula Ore. And how many women’s names do we not know because they don’t dare come forward? Because the violence they experience at the hands of the police is sexual, and the shame and stigma around sexual violence silences them?
The truth is that, in the predominantly male-led civil rights organizations who lead efforts to respond to police brutality, in the male-dominated media that covers them, and in the hearts and minds of many people in this country, women who are of color, who are sex workers, undocumented immigrants, transgender (or, god forbid, more than one of those at once) are rarely candidates for “innocence,” and are often blamed for their own deaths, forgotten, or hardly counted at all. Women of color who are targeted by the police, and black women in particular, are seen as so disposable, so far from being moral actors, that their lives and deaths are just passed over by the mainstream — their victimization and murder just another facet of the American landscape.