What is Behind the Disturbing Trend of African-Americans Found Dead at the Hands of Police?

by Vins

Tasasha Henderson of Truthout documents another instance in the alarmingly increase of African-American women who have died while in police custody. In January 2016, sixteen-year-old Gynna McMillen was found unresponsive in her cell at the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. She had been brought into custody after a domestic dispute occurred at her mother’s home.

The detention staff used a martial arts chokehold to restrain McMillen after she refused to cooperate with an order to remove her sweatshirt. After that incident, detention center staff neglected to check on her, despite protocol that requires checks every fifteen minutes.

Henderson links McMillen’s death to other instances in which black women have died in police custody, including: Sandra Bland, Raynette Turner, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones, Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Natasha McKenna and Sheneque Proctor. “The state has many apparatuses,” Henderson writes, “to control, discipline and finally to disappear Black people, especially those deemed most deviant by the state, including women and girls, poor folks, queer, trans and gender-nonconforming folks, sex workers and people with a disability.”

What can be done to prevent further such tragedies? Henderson describes the findings of a 2014 report by the African American Policy Forum. That report, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” recommended reviewing and revising policies that funnel girls into the juvenile legal system, developing protocols to ensure school personnel enforce all students’ rights to environments free of sexual harassment and bullying, and developing programs to support girls who have been traumatized, to name a few.

A search of corporate news coverage of Gynna McMillen’s death yielded just two reports, one from the New York Times and the other from CBS News. The Times coverage was barely a paragraph, and it provided minimal details on the severity of the case. Like the Times article, the CBS News treated McMillen’s death as an unfortunate but isolated event, rather than part of a large social problem. How many more African-American women have to die in the hands of the police before the public demands change?

Source: Tasasha Henderson, “Why Are Black Girls and Women Dying in Police Custody?” Truthout, February 8, 2016, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/34741-why-are-black-girls-and-women-dying-in-police-custody.

Student Researcher: Luke Mai (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)