Police murders of men of color are a feminist issue

There’s been a fair amount of discussion of whether or not police murders of men of color are a feminist issue.

I’ve always thought they are, but for a different reason than I’ve seen described in the recent discussions. It’s because the police are sexist in how they act out their racism; although both women and men of color are murdered by racist police, the police disproportionately single out men of color to kill.

To me, any time that there’s an injustice based on mistreating people according to their gender, that’s a feminist issue. Sean Bell was murdered because he was a male of color. Oscar Grant was murdered (or should I say, executed?) because he was a male of color. It’s gender injustice, and it is a feminist issue.

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14 Responses to Police murders of men of color are a feminist issue

  1. 1
    Mandolin says:

    But also kyriarchy, right?

  2. Mm hm. And i think… I think the fact that it’s an antiracist issue makes it a feminist issue…. is this what has been argued already in the other forum??

    I think also that the way in which the situation is gendered is very specifically abt how black men or men of color (I pulled out black men b/c I think there’s a very specific history there with regard to gendering) are gendered that cuts directly to the relationship between White supremacy and patriarchy in this country. I think that’s important to say, that it’s still patriarchal (white supremacist) gendering, so that it doesn’t sound like you’re implying some kind of “reverse” gender discrimination. It’s a different manifestation of some of the same systems that alternatively marginalize and privilege (some) white women and women of color.

  3. …I just googled “kyriarchy,” and that’s exactly what I intended to describe. I didn’t know that word existed. Thanks, Rachel. I mean Mandolin.

  4. 4
    nojojojo says:

    I agree, but for a different reason. Men of color are singled out by the police in part because of the persistent fear that they pose a sexual threat to white women, or to white men by way of white women (replacement). The idea of them threatening white women is especially insidious, because a) it positions white women as objects in a sexual contest between white men and men of color, which makes it easier for them to be objectified in other ways; b) it glosses over the sexual threats faced by women of color (which is VERY MUCH a feminist issue); and c) it just ain’t true.

    Where else have you been seeing discussion of this? I’ll admit I don’t often venture onto other feminist boards; too much headdesk material there.

  5. 5
    Mandolin says:

    I think there was a conversation about it at Feministe a few months back.

  6. I agree with nojojojo.

    Also, Renee has a great piece in Womanist Musings/Racialicious (I saw it in Racialicious) reminding that Black women are targeted by police violence.

  7. 7
    NancyP says:

    I’d be more specific and call it a gendered issue that can be analyzed using both feminist analysis (for reasons noted by nojojojo) and anti-racism analysis.

    There’s
    1. ‘feminist issue’ = analysis of an issue using a feminist approach, whether or not the issue involves women, ie, broad gender/sexuality/g. identity analysis

    2. ‘feminist issue’ = any issue involving oppression to anyone, on the basis that the various types of oppression are all linked (ie, kyriarchy, not subdivided)

    3. ‘feminist issue’ = analysis of an issue specifically or disproportionately affecting women in some direct fashion, using a feminist approach.

    Personally, I use definition 3 for ‘feminist issue’, and call definition 1 ‘gender analysis’ and definition 2 ‘intersectional analysis’.

    IMO, some of the hoo-hah in the last week or two has been a result of
    1. the failure of writers to specify their choice of 1, 2, or 3 for the meaning of the phrase “feminist issue” in their writing
    AND
    2. readers’ natural inclination to use their own definition when the writer’s definition isn’t made clear.

    When you come right down to it, the ‘WHATEVER issue’ has specifics, and it it likely that we agree in part or fully about the validity of the specific issue in the specific incident(s), and differ primarily in operational details. (Yes, organizational details matter, but it doesn’t do to make these the central concern on the issue.)

    There are few hard-core racists or sexists or heterosexists or cisgenderists or…. reading these blogs. There are many more oblivious people who need to get off their brainstems and learn about how others experience the world. I think that some consciousness of the possibility of misunderstanding, some acknowledgment that one can hold a broad egalitarian philosophy but only have significant time and energy* to support a single issue, and some respect for the other writers, can go far in promoting a constructive blog environment.

    * (beyond the occasional letter to politician, effort to open the mind of a friend, attending a local event/march/etc outside your main issue(s) )

  8. 8
    drydock says:

    Ampersand writes: “Oscar Grant was murdered (or should I say, executed?) because he was a male of color. ”

    I think this situation is better described by the Grant family attorney John Burris:

    “I don’t think the officer shot the gun because Oscar was black, but I think the way he approached the situation in an aggressive way was based on race,” said attorney John Burris, who is representing Grant’s family in their claim against BART. “If they were white, the officer might have asked them what was going on, rather than throw them in handcuffs.” (sf chronicle)

    Second, perhaps the question should be: Are murders (in general) of men of color a feminist issue?

    Homicide is the leading cause of death among black men under the age of 35. 99% of these murders are not by the police. I don’t want argue there aren’t problems with the police. Here in Oakland the problems with the OPD are serious (and should be countered), however these problems pale in comparison with the out of control street violence that plagues this city.

  9. 9
    octogalore says:

    Interesting. Still think we are conflating “issue” and “discussion.” Most “issues” allow feminist “discussions” but if the discussion never occurs and the presentation is similar to that of an AP article, it never becomes feminist.

    Also, more males than females of any race are involved in violent crimes. So they’re going to get more targeted by police brutality, which impacts more on black men b/c of racism. You may have something in your argument of sexism, but I think you need to show some stats first to demonstrate that targeting of men has to do with gender and not just who’s there.

  10. 10
    octogalore says:

    Certainly police seek out men of color in inflicting violence. But is this because of racism or sexism? I think it’s pretty clear it’s the former.

    To argue that it’s also the latter, you’d have to also show that the increased likelihood of men vs women being victims of police violence has nothing to do with this.

    Hey — I’m openminded. My husband, who is much more likely than I to find an injustice-to-men argument, isn’t — he thinks it’s open and shut that men’s increased participation in violence is what makes this non-gender-based. Clearly he is being sexist towards his own kind! But me? Totally open to the fact that you probably have a whiz-bang argument showing that police just let female offenders off the hook easy, despite this kind of thing.

  11. 11
    Ampersand says:

    Certainly police seek out men of color in inflicting violence. But is this because of racism or sexism? I think it’s pretty clear it’s the former.

    I disagree with your framing; racism and sexism aren’t mutually exclusive possibilities.

    Totally open to the fact that you probably have a whiz-bang argument showing that police just let female offenders off the hook easy, despite this kind of thing.

    Oh, please. I never claimed “police just let female offenders off the hook easy.” And my post explicitly acknowledged that women of color are sometimes victims of police violence.

    Also, more males than females of any race are involved in violent crimes. So they’re going to get more targeted by police brutality, which impacts more on black men b/c of racism. You may have something in your argument of sexism, but I think you need to show some stats first to demonstrate that targeting of men has to do with gender and not just who’s there.

    Try doing a google search for police shoot unarmed — the vast, vast majority of the results you’ll find will be about unarmed men getting shot. Many of the links are for cases where the victim was in no way being threatening to police, and were not committing crimes.

    It’s true, I believe, that a disproportionate number of men are shot by police is that those who actively confront the police or commit violent crimes are mostly male.

    But another reason a disproportionate number of men are shot by police is that police just feel more threatened by men than by women, especially when combined with the way that police feel more threatened by people of color than by whites. This is why there are, as far as I can tell, many more cases of unarmed, innocent men being shot by police than unarmed, innocent women being shot by police.

  12. 12
    Ampersand says:

    But also kyriarchy, right?

    Definitely.

  13. 13
    Radfem says:

    Oh, please. I never claimed “police just let female offenders off the hook easy.” And my post explicitly acknowledged that women of color are sometimes victims of police violence.

    I would like to say that it’s not just “sometimes” because as stated, there’s more than one kind of police violence. Lethal force comes to mind first and foremost because it’s loss of life and that’s understandable and yes, that impacts mostly “men” but not men as a gender especially in terms of the shooting of unarmed men. In my city’s department (which granted is an individual case) there are actually few shootings of men armed with guns. From 2002-2008, there have been

    fatal: 4

    nonfatal: 2

    Replicas (fake but realistic looking): 2

    Of these, three out of four fatal were White. One Latino. The nonfatal was Black and White and one replica was Black, the other White. Outside of this, only three other Whites were killed, two male, one female that weren’t armed with guns or replicas. That’s out of about over 30 shootings total (not sure of the exact number). Of the two killed, both the Whites were misidentified as Latino based on information provided by the officers in their interviews with investigators.

    Of the shootings of unarmed people (and there were three just in 2006), two were African-American and one White (the guy mistaken for Latino), most were men of color and one White woman (mistaken for Latino). Several of them were mentally incapacitated. The White men who were shot were more likely to have been stopped or approached by police for felony behavior, whereas with the men of color, it was mostly misdemeanor, infraction (traffic violation) or no crime. Mental illness was a huge issue with some of them, crossing racial lines but Black and Latino individuals who were mentally or medically ill (i.e. hypoglycemic unawareness) were more likely to be misidentified as being on PCP or crack even if their toxs came back clean for both drugs (or positive for low levels of THC). Whites, both male and female showed a tendency to come back positive for crystal meth at a higher rate.

    With men, DV calls are involved in a number of them. Some of the women in my area shot by officers in different jurisdictions were DV victims.

    The one woman (mistaken for Latina) killed or shot at since Tyisha Miller incidentally was probably the worst shooting of them all because the officer shot her point blank in a stationary vehicle after walking right in front of it. He murdered her basically but everyone including myself who even whispered that word or wrote it was threatened with defamation of character lawsuits. Never mind that the officer and one of the investigating detectives laughed on the audio tape of the officer’s interview when the officer was asked if he was mentally distraught. And when the officer filed suit, the chief blamed his inability to promote the officer and put him on special assignments on my blog.

    The closest comparison to it, is Oscar Grant down to the video which in this case went unseen for two years and has never been seen by the public. Though none of the shootings of unarmed people in 2006 were anything but problematic (to say the least) shootings.

    I don’t know if this is typical because any department, any city, region is different but the other departments in my area showed similar trends though some worse than my city’s.

    But like I stated, police violence isn’t just lethal force or even excessive force. There’s sexual violence and also domestic violence, both huge problems. And those impact mostly women. Feminist majority estimated that officers are four times more likely to report abusive behavior of women anonymously on surveys then the general population. An investigator who was looking into the issue in the LAPD was so appalled by the prevalence not to mention the LAPD’s handling of it that he leaked a confidential investigation to the media which is a crime in my state and caused him to be put in jail on contempt of court by a federal judge. The majority of women abused sexually and raped by officers are sex workers, homeless and women addicted to drugs because they like their male counterparts on the lethal force side are more likely to come into contact with onduty LE. Plus, in the cases where police officers stray outside these groups, they are much more likely to get caught. A woman in Orange County told a representative of another agency who was conducting a performance survey about her rape by a police officer who came to her home on a call. He was located and arrested within several days.

    So if you’re going to look at “police violence” in general, by gender (and as stated, this is very problematic unless race, class, sexual orientation and disability are factored in), it has to be broken down into different forms of violence to do it justice and also to address it. Even in the areas of lethal force, because there’s many different factors involved. For example, there might be increases because in this economic crisis, mental illness might be more of an issue and treatment of it inpatient and outpatient might be more of a factor as well (as my state’s done serious cuts in this area and mental health is one of the first things cut anyway) and police officers in most agencies aren’t equipped or trained to deal with them in ways that don’t involve force and aren’t lethal. I listened to an audio recording of one officer just before the fatal shooting of a Black mentally ill unarmed man and the officer just lost it when his authority was challenged by a man who just didn’t understand what he was saying because he was responding to auditory hallucinations. Then you hear taser charges, the officer panics more, the second one arrives and not long after, gunshots. The officer who shot that man had shot another mentally ill man just five months before. When he found out I audited the new crisis mental health training, he approached me and we discussed our experiences and views of it, which was very interesting.

    Smaller rural towns which have issues with meth like Eureka, California saw shootings spike up involving people on meth, some with mental health issues. Yet, what else is being cut in California? Drug rehab programs and there’s already shortages of those addressing the more complex meth addictions.

  14. 14
    octogalore says:

    So if you acknowledge that “those who actively confront the police or commit violent crimes are mostly male,” then of course more unarmed men will be shot. Police are flawed, racist, sexist, etc. as we’ve all discussed, but they are risking their lives and have to be aware of the statistics that a given suspect will be dangerous. If I was told that there had been a rape and was shown a lineup of three men and three women, with no further information, and had to choose someone as most likely, I’d choose one of the guys. Doesn’t mean that I think guys are rapists, that women cannot be rapists (they can) or that I am sexist, just that I am aware of rape stats.

    Also, you don’t mention that more unarmed guys are shot because more guys are in the proximity of where crimes are committed, less likely to be at home, whether or not they are guilty. That’s a factor, too, that doesn’t have to do with gender bias per se.

    For all these reason, where I would ordinarily see gender bias affecting men as a feminist issue, here the lack of a rigorous attempt to eliminate certain variables which impinge on the analysis strikes me as suggestive of an odd attempt to defocus the groups that are typically viewed as oppressed when we look at race and gender.