This past weekend, I wrote a post on Facebook that was shared numerous times regarding the murders of NYPD police officers Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32. I decided to share the post with readers because it seemed to strike a chord with so many. Other than correcting the shooter Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s age, this is what I wrote:
FACEBOOK: The attempt to use the murder of the two police officers in NYC over the weekend (which is horrible) to discredit a social justice movement dedicated to eradicating police brutality in black and brown communities is deplorable. Further, to isolate the murder of the officers from a chain of unlawful events including Brinsley shooting his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore hours before the murders is dishonest. The posts about the violence he wanted to exact against police officers were posted by him on his ex-girlfriend’s Instagram account. The murder of the police officers was not an isolated event — it was one of many despicable acts by a mentally unstable 28-year-old. To use his awful actions as an indictment against those who justly fight against injustice in our country in fact shows how mentally ill we are as a society. While you pray for the police officers, remember to pray for his ex-girlfriend who is being written out of this dominant narrative in an effort to undermine the very real need to continue to fight against police brutality, despite yesterday’s tragic events. #blackwomenslivesmattertoo FACEBOOK END.
Many of the initial reports about the murders were telling the story of a lone wolf who assassinated two police officers in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in an isolated incident, when there was so much more to the story.
More details about the shooter Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28 are becoming available and it is clear that the Baltimore-Sun’s initial reports were true; the murder of the officers was not an isolated incident, although many national media outlets reported the opposite. Brinsley started on a path of destruction at 6 a.m. that began with the shooting of an ex-girlfriend Shaneka Thompson, 29, whom he shot in the abdomen at her Owings Mill apartment. Owings Mill is a suburb just north of Baltimore where many middle class Baltimoreans reside. Nicky Wolf of The Guardian reports:
“The wound was not fatal: Thompson’s condition was described as critical but stable. Brinsley took his ex-girlfriend’s phone and called her mother to apologise, telling her it was an accident and that he hoped her daughter would live.
Then he took a Bolt Bus to New York City.
Brinsley’s bus arrived at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue on Manhattan’s West Side at 10.50am. He was subsequently captured on video, taking the N train.
At 12.07pm, after sending a message to Instagram that said ‘this may be my final post’, Brinsley abandoned the stolen phone at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. It has since been recovered by police.”
Brinsley’s heinous act was a series of actions by a man that was clearly out of his mind. Who shoots an ex-girlfriend and then calls her mother to discuss it? What person who is planning to assassinate police officers posts it hours before on Instagram? While many are blaming the murder of the NYPD police officers on Mayor Bill De Blasio, why was the intel that clearly indicated that Brinsley, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, was on his way to kill cops not relayed to Brooklyn PD? I guess after folks stop passing the buck, they’ll get around to finding out how this horrible event actually happened.
In addition to inappropriately blaming those who are justly fighting against police brutality in black and brown communities and laying the murders at the feet of the NYC Mayor’s office, many pundits, union leaders and police officers have neglected to even mention Shaneka Nicole Thompson. Therein lies the problem.
The idea that the lives of the members of the police department are more important or significant than Thompson, who is an Air Force reservist and health insurance specialist with the Veterans Administration, is a problem. Why should the lives of the slain officers have more value than hers? She also serves and protects this country and helps those who serve and protect this country, so why was the media so willing to leave what happened to her out of the ongoing discussions about Brinsley?
It’s the same reason that folks that want black women to march in the streets when unarmed black men are killed by police, don’t even flinch when they hear about unarmed black women and children being killed by police. There is little to no value placed on the lives of black women and girls in this country.
Take for instance, the murder of sleeping 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Where were the nationwide marches and die-ins when charges were dropped in October 2014 against Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley who shot and killed Aiyana while she was sleeping on the sofa with her grandmother? When did the shooting occur? Wait for it — during a raid while filming a reality television show on police officers. Black women writer/activists like Dream Hampton and Jessica Care Moore worked tirelessly to keep the story and memory of Aiyana alive, through organizing and demanding justice. Where was the national outcry for this child killed in her sleep?
Where is the national outcry for Tanesha Anderson, 27, who was killed after being slammed to the pavement by Cleveland police officers? Anderson, who was bi-polar, died after her head hit the concrete during a “take down” by police.
What about Rekia Boyd, who was fatally shot in the back of the head by Chicago police officer Dante Dervin or Yvette Smith, 48, who was shot and killed by a member of the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office, when she opened the door to let police officers in after calling for help? What about Tarika Wilson, 26 or Tyisha Miller, 19 or Pearlie Smith, 93? You get the gist.
To quote Evette Dionne in her blog post on a similar topic for Ms., “Police kill black women all the time, too — we just don’t hear about it,” which leads me back to the murders of the NYPD police officers and the willingness of many journalists and stakeholders to initially dispose of, diminish or remove Shaneka Nicole Thompson’s presence from the story.
Where is the national outcry for the violence against Shaneka Nicole Thompson, who is as much of a victim of Brinley as the two slain officers? Thompson, a military woman who just happened to survive her life-threatening injuries, is still in critical condition. Where are the prayers for her? Where is the march against domestic or intimate partner violence against black women organized by black men? The American Bar Association reports that Black females experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of white females, and about 22 times the rate of women of other races. The number one killer of African-American women ages 15 to 34 is homicide at the hands of a current or former intimate partner, so why isn’t Thompson’s attempted murder by a former intimate partner newsworthy from the start of Brinsley’s campaign of terror?
Thompson’s life is as important as the lives of the slain officers and the lives of unarmed black men killed by police officers. It is unconscionable to expect black women to lead marches, protests and organizing sessions while allowing our murders and mistreatment by the justice system (Kellie Williams-Bolar and Marissa Alexander) to go unchecked. The lack of regard for the attempted murder of Shaneka Nicole Thompson by Brinsley in this now international story reflects the disdain, contempt and lack of value placed on the lives of black women.
If Thompson’s life doesn’t matter in the context of being another public servant gunned down by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the same person that gunned down two Brooklyn cops which is now an international story and if it doesn’t matter in the context of intimate partner violence, then when does it matter?
As we go forward in this movement and pray for slain police officers and unarmed black men and boys, remember to pray for the lives of black women and girls, whose murders and attacks will more than likely go under reported or be willfully removed from news stories so that a dominant narrative and hierarchy can prevail. Black women’s lives matter too — they really do.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news and aggregation site The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @ Ntellectual or @TheBurtonWire.