Unfortunately, I have known many men like Clark, who tweeted in 2015, "I don't want nothin' black but a Xbox. Dark bitches bring dark days."
He isn't the only one who held misguided and dangerous beliefs about black women and girls. A 2014 study revealed that darker-skinned girls are subjected to harsher discipline in school. Meanwhile, more than 70 black women of all hues have been killed in recent years, according to
a report by #SayHerName. #SayHerName uses social media, protests, and studies to raise awareness of black, female victims of police violence.
As protestors rallied to focus national attention on the deaths of unarmed black men by mostly white police officers, Clark's heartless comments
were brandished as weaponized insights to cause division among protestors and shame black women into silence.
Nevertheless, the question remained: Why should black women protest the manner in which Clark died when our presence was seemingly distasteful to him in life?
The answers ranged from "nobody's perfect" to the acceptance of misogyny in the black community as the price black women pay for our collective freedom. But that is a false choice.
Instead of accepting both as the only two options, we can protest Clark's death as the result of ongoing militarized policing in black and brown communities by also giving equal weight to instances of police brutality when they happen to black women. Storytellers, journalists, and activists should continue to uplift the stories of black women, so they too, become symbols of an enduring movement for justice.
An upcoming HBO documentary
, "Say Her Name: The Death and Life of Sandra Bland," aims to do just that. Oscar-nominated filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner explore the circumstances surrounding Bland's death as a lens to examine police brutality, racism, and the country's broken prison system.
The documentary is a welcome addition to the continuing work of Kimberlé Crenshaw and the African American Policy Forum, who co-founded in 2015 the #SayHerName movement
in the wake of Bland's death in police custody.
Such efforts accomplish three important goals.
First, they provide a more accurate representation of state-sanctioned violence in black communities. Police violence toward black cisgender and transgender women tends to go underreported and undercounted in efforts to document the problem. The stigma of sexual assault, domestic violence, poverty, mental health problems, or child safety concerns may further complicate matters.
"Many black women who are abused and killed by police are among the low-income and homeless people increasingly targeted by the policing of poverty and 'broken windows' policing practices," according to
#SayHerName's 2015 report
. "The criminalization of poor people, when coupled with negative stereotypes about black women may result not only in police harassment, but also in police killings."
Second, once we understand the extent to which all black people, including women and children, are devastated by police brutality, solutions can move from individual "fixes" like implementing police body cams and increasing staff training to systemic solutions that root out institutionalized racism, administer true justice, and promote restoration to affected families.
Finally, highlighting the stories of black women who have been victimized by the police in their homes and communities lends courage and strength to those who have also experienced it and live with the scars that come with knowing the people who were sworn to protect you can also violate you.
When I was 17 years old, I was coerced into having sex with a traffic cop in my neighborhood. I never reported it. I believed the officer when he said it was my fault and that telling anyone what happened would lead to the arrest and possible death of my parents.
I kept my experience a secret for 25 years, until the deaths in 2016 of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling encouraged me to tell my mother what happened. She died a month later. My dad died three years before, never knowing why his otherwise "good" daughter broke his heart through self-harming and trying to run away from home.
Clark became an emblem of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement because he embodies the threat of violence black and brown Americans face on the street every day. Sacramento police said they shot and killed Clark because they believed he was holding a gun. Clark was holding a cell phone. An independent pathologist hired by the family concluded he was shot seven times in the back and sides.
We expect our symbolic figures to be uncomplicated, defined only by that which made them significant to us in the first place. Clark's tweets are symptomatic of a much larger problem -- the continued erasure of black women's stories in American culture and the various social and political movements that promise, but often fail, to include us. We can and must do better.