Last week, The New York Times published a much-discussed analysis of Census data under a headline claiming that 1.5 million black men are “missing” from daily life in America. Because of punitive and racially targeted criminal justice policies and factors leading to premature death (including declining but high homicide rates), huge swaths of black men are tucked away in prison cells or early graves. The study found that for every 100 black women in the United States who are not in jail, there are 83 black men in the same category. Among white Americans there’s barely a gap, with just one missing man for every 100 women.
The Times’ graphics and reporting are fascinating, but analysis veered off into shallow and well-trod territory, concluding that a primary outcome of these “disappeared” men is that black families are set up for dysfunction because too few men are around to be husbands and fathers. Through this lens, the systemic assault on black lives hurts black women because they’re left alone in to raise families on their own.
Last Monday, we got a glimpse of why a focus on black women as secondary casualties of policies and practices that fuel the mass disappearance is short-sighted. That’s the day a Cook County judge dismissed the charges facing the Chicago officer who, while off-duty, killed an unarmed 22-year-old black woman named Rekia Boyd in 2012. The reasoning the judge gave for the acquittal is particularly galling: The killing was obviously intentional, so only a murder charge — as opposed to the lesser involuntary manslaughter charges the DA brought—could have stuck, the judge said. The officer killed Boyd after he approached a group of people she was standing with because they were talking too loud for his taste. He maintains that killing her was an accident.
Boyd is one of few black women whose names are sometimes listed alongside other recent victims of police use of excessive force. But mobilization in the wake of her killing hasn’t measured up to public responses after black men die at the hands of police, argued writer and activist Darnell Moore last week. According to Moore:
…Most people don’t know Boyd’s name. They don’t know names like Shantel Davis (killed at age 23), Aiyana Stanley-Jones (killed at age 7) and Kendra James (killed at 21), either. When black men are killed, slogans like “hands up, don’t shoot” or “I can’t breathe” echo across the country. When black girls and women like Boyd are killed, there is comparative silence.