Researcher calls for increased attention to police shootings of women of color

Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 9:31pm

Barnard Center for Research on Women Researcher Andrea J. Richtie discusses police brutality towards women of color in Hatcher Thursday

Barnard Center for Research on Women Researcher Andrea J. Richtie discusses police brutality towards women of color in Hatcher Thursday Buy this photo
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“What’s the first name that comes to mind when you think of police brutality?” Andrea Ritchie asked a crowd of about fifty people Thursday night during her talk at the Hatcher Graduate Library titled "Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color".

Ritchie, a researcher in residence at the Social Justice Institute of the Barnard Center for Research on Women and lawyer, is the author of a book bearing the same title as her talk. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Departments of Political Science and Women’s Studies. Ritchie will also be speaking Friday, Jan 19. in a day-long event titled “The Other America: Still Separate, Still Equal”, featuring different narratives of police brutality among Black Americans.

In 2014, Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Three months later, Tanisha Anderson, a Black woman, was killed by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio. While responding to a call about Anderson “disturbing the peace,” an officer placed Anderson in a “prone position,” forcing his knee into her back until she was no longer breathing.  However, Ritchie noted this case did not “play the same iconic role” as Brown's case –– a fact she attributed to Anderson's gender.

“If we are going to talk about police brutality, we need to expand our view and deepen our analysis,” Ritchie said.  

She then related the experiences of other women of color such as Nicola Robinson, a pregnant woman who was punched in her belly by a policeman on her porch, and Charnesia Corley, who was pulled over for speeding and then publicly stripped at the waist. These names are part of a long list of women who have suffered from extreme police brutality.

Ritchie said another major issue affecting women is sexual mistreatment by police officers. What is particularly troubling, she said, is the fact that over half of the police departments in the country have no policy about how to interact with pregnant women.

“While sexual misconduct by police is second most reported after police brutality, it is not second most talked about,” Ritchie said.

She discussed an instance in which a woman was forced to perform oral sex as an ultimatum after a police officer convicted her of a minor crime: Being in the park at night. She cited this as an example of “broken window policing,” a theory in which police use minor crimes in order to discriminate against certain individuals.

Ritchie further elaborated on the stories of other victims of police misconduct, including Asian women, Middle Eastern women and members of the LGBTQ community. She remarked on one case in which a Black transgender man named Juan Evans was pulled over for speeding. Having left his identification at his office, Evans provided the officer with his information, which the officer accused as false. The officer then publically searched Evans in order to verify his gender.

When Ritchie asked the audience who knew the name “Aura Rosser,” just a handful raised their hand. Rosser, she told the audience, was an artist and a mother of three. In 2014, Ann Arbor police responded to a call from Victor Stephens, Rosser's spouse, saying Rosser, who suffered from bipolar disorder, was threatening him with a knife. Within five to 10 seconds of entering the home, one officer discharged his taser and the other fired his gun, killing Rosser. The officers claimed that Rosser had charged at them.

“This needs to inform our resistance,” Ritchie said.

While she showed pictures of Ann Arbor students protesting in the aftermath of this tragedy, she discussed how this event was still not well-known or heavily discussed.

Mental health issues are prevalent in police brutality cases, Ritchie said, affecting half of victims in brutality cases.

LSA senior Nicole Miller attended the event and was glad to see diversity among attendees.

“This is what most excited me because in the Black community this is what we talk about every day,” she said.

Another Alumni Gabe Coleman indicated his gratitude after hearing Ritchie speak, saying the lecture motivated him.

“This is such an intense emotional topic and just the way she was able to talk about it inspires people like myself who want to do this stuff to keep going,” he said