From Latasha Harlins to Breonna Taylor: A history of unaccounted for black female murders
Whether it be at the hands of a US citizen or an officer sworn to “serve and protect” an alarming number of black females have been murdered in the US since the 1990s. Tragically, the perpetrators of many of those murders walk free, unconvicted of their crimes.
“It is hard to educate the public about violence against Black women because it so rarely makes the news. The stories of their deaths may be newsworthy, but the fact that the victim or survivor is a Black woman can be buried.”
— The Violent State: Black Women’s Invisible Struggle Against Police Violence
“You have to watch this documentary on Netflix,” my father said through a FaceTime call. “It’s 19 minutes long. Search for Latasha.”
Fifteen-year-old Latasha Harlins was murdered in cold blood in 1991 by Soon Ja Du, a 51-year-old Korean store clerk. Harlins and Du began to scuffle over the counter in the convenience store where Harlins went to get a bottle orange juice for her family’s breakfast table. Du accused Harlins of stealing.
Grainy and graphic security footage shows the moment Du shot Harlins in the back of the head at point-blank range as she turns away from the till. Reports from the time of the incident gruesomely state that Harlins was found by police, clutching two dollars in hand — the money needed to pay for the $1.79 bottle of orange juice.
After Du was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, Judge Joyce Karlin sentenced her to time served, 400 hours of community service, a $500 fine and five years probation.
Seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was murdered by Detroit police in 2010 during a no-knock warrant. Officer Joseph Weekley allegedly collided with Aiyana’s grandmother, causing him to accidentally discharge his weapon. Aiyana was shot in the head. Weekley was initially charged with involuntary manslaughter, however in 2015, the case was dismissed.
A similar no-knock raid claimed the life of Alberta Spruill seven years earlier in 2003. Alberta, who was home getting dressed for work, died of a heart attack after half a dozen police officers stormed her home in Harlem, using a battering ram on the door to gain entry and tossing a grenade inside before entering.
Deborah Danner, a mentally-ill woman, was gunned down by police in her Bronx apartment in 2016. Deborah had been outspoken about the ongoing issues between the mentally-ill and the police, having written an essay on the subject four years before her untimely death. Deborah’s story draws parallels between the late 1984 murder of mentally-ill woman Eleanor Bumpurs killed by police during an eviction. Both Deborah and Eleanor were 66 when they died.
Korryn Gaines, 23, was shot by police after a six-hour standoff in her home in 2016. Much of the standoff was live streamed to Facebook and Instagram. Gaines’s mental state during the standoff has been called into question and no officer was convicted for her death.
Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot 8 times in her apartment by Louisville police earlier this year. On 23 September, the verdict in the fate of the officers involved with her death was made public. Three officers descended upon Breonna’s apartment. Two of them shot bullets that landed in Breonna’s body yet only one officer received a conviction. And the conviction was for wanton endangerment.
“A cop killed a black woman and only got charged for the bullets that missed.” — author unknown
Where do we go from here? We #SayHerName and we organise #BlackLivesMatter protests across the world yet we still wake to the horrors of black lives claimed at the hands of the public and through systemic police brutality. We demonstrate, mobilise and strive for change. We weep for the lives cut short. We stand in anger and in shock at the audacity of our criminal justice system to repeatedly turn a blind eye to these injustices.
Michelle S. Jacobs states it so eloquently, “Black women’s interaction with the state, through law enforcement, is marked by violence. Black women are murdered by the police. They are assaulted and injured by the police. They are arrested unlawfully by the police; and finally they are tried, convicted and incarcerated for defending themselves against nonpolice violence. State violence against Black women is long-standing, pervasive, persistent, and multilayered, yet few legal actors seem to care about it.”
Latasha Harlins wasn’t the first black woman to be killed whose killer served no time behind bars and Breonna Taylor won’t be the last. So, who’s next?
Anyonita Green is an American in Britain. She writes with a confessionalist voice, exploring narrative essays, BAME topics, pop culture, parenthood, obesity, race, travel, literature and food.