There’s a common saying where I’m from—“the truth hits different when you’re guilty.” My
elders repeated this phrase as both a statement of fact and a warning against covering up future
misdeeds. When guilty, they advised us to strengthen our ability to stand fully in our mistakes.
They taught us that the same space where one is “hit different” is the space where one learns
from their mistakes and can clearly pave a path forward towards truth, justice, and restoration.
They encouraged us to recognize these steps as the process of building character.
The United States is guilty. And the truth is “hitting different” all across the country.
Policing in the United States is rooted in an old belief in which black people and people of color
are property and pawns in a capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal and heteronormative
nation-state. For centuries, police inflicted violence on us and our communities when we step out
of our place or assert our humanity—when we claim that we are more than what those in power
would deem us to be. From slave patrols to the modern-day, militarized police departments,
officers are agents of the state imbued with power to capture us and determine our fates.
In the past, determining our fates meant tracking down black people fleeing captivity and
returning them to white slave owners. It meant invading indigenous lands and seizing their
children and sending them to state-owned boarding schools. It meant rounding up and
incarcerating Japanese Americans en masse during World War II. Today, it means officers
wielding state power on the streets and deciding who lives and who dies and who’s life and
communities are ruined.
My research shows that for black women, survival includes figuring out how to stay alive and
how to protect themselves from the countless ways officers inflict gender-based and sexual
violence upon them. In my interviews with black women, they shared stories of being sexually
assaulted when pulled over for a minor traffic violation and being told they would receive a
ticket unless they complied; of surviving years of child and family domestic abuse from an
officer in their home because they felt that no one at the local police department would help
them; of being mocked and laughed at when reporting rape or domestic violence; of being afraid
in their homes at night after a community police officer who knows where they live sexually
harasses them and threatens them with more violence.
Many of these black women, like Oluwatoyin Salau a Black Lives Matter protestor who was
recently assaulted and killed in Florida, are on the frontlines working to alleviate lethal force and
advocate for justice in their communities. Yet, when they speak out on their own behalf, their
truths are repeatedly pushed to the margins in conversations on police brutality and considered
less urgent matters in discussions on police reform.
This is that space in which we must stand.
In the past, our anger has coalesced into social movements pushing for visibility and justice.
INCITE!, #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, #BlackTransLivesMatter, #SayTheirName are
recent iterations from communities and activists attempting to transform our society into a place
where everyone is free from violence. For this freedom to be fully manifested, we must include
every black person and person of color and contend with every experience of police violence.
We must no longer be content with a single story of police brutality.
Our outrage must include those on the margins. We must include black people with disabilities.
We must include black trans and cis women. We must include black trans men and non-binary
people. We must remember the names of Atatiana Jefferson, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor,
Brianna Hill, Pamela Turner, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet alongside George Floyd, Philando
Castile, and Eric Garner. We must equally reckon with Shandegreon “Sade” Hill and other
victims of Daniel Holtzclaw, a serial rapist who in 2016 was sentenced to 263 years in prison for
using his position as a police officer to run background checks on black women and target those
with criminal records. We must include the countless other victims, whose names we do not
know, of police gender-based and sexual violence. We must include the murders and assaults
against black trans women.
We can build inclusive and safe communities for everyone by centering those who are too easily
forgotten. Black feminists repeatedly urge us to return to the margins, with bell hooks (1990, p.
150) theorizing it as a space that “offers to one the possibility of radical perspective from which
to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.”
The margins are where we are hearing calls to abolish and defund policing. The margins are the
path forward towards truth, justice, and restoration.