As George Floyd’s death focuses renewed attention on the African American men who have been killed by police officers across the country and the deep-seated issue of bias in policing, advocates are also saying that dozens of African American women over the last few decades who have been killed by police or died in their custody are a part of the conversation that is missing.
From Eleanor Bumpers to Alberta Spruill to Breonna Taylor, many African American women were either killed by police or died in police custody. The vast majority were shot and a number of cases involved mental illness and controversial “no-knock” warrants.
While the rate of death for black women is much lower than black men who die by police brutality, it has been amplified recently by the case of Taylor, whose case is now under investigation by the FBI.
Taylor, born in Grand Rapids on June 5, 1993, was, her family says, an accomplished front-line healthcare worker in Louisville, Kentucky, where she went to the state’s university and lived with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker.
Taylor and Walker were asleep when their apartment on March 13 when it was raided by three plainclothes Louisville police officers who were executing a “no-knock” warrant related to drugs, police said. Walker called 911 to report a break-in as shots rang out and bullets were exchanged between the officers and Walker, a licensed gun owner, according to Sam Aguiar, an attorney for the Taylor family.
Taylor was shot at least eight times during the fusillade, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the shooters.
While Taylor was suspected by the police of participating in drug trafficking, no drugs were found in the apartment, police said. The officers — Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Officers Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove — were placed on administrative reassignment pending investigations by the FBI and local police officials.
A way to honor Taylor
This week, in memory of what would have been Taylor’s 27th birthday, writer Cate Young started a campaign to allow the community to take action in her honor.
Young told ABC News on Thursday that she got frustrated when Taylor’s name “quickly” dropped out of headlines.
“When I realized she had a birthday coming up, I wanted to do something, strike while the iron is hot, while everyone is still paying attention and bring her name back into the news,” Young said.
Young created a website with a nine-part action plan that includes encouraging the use of the hashtags “#SayHerName” and “#BirthdayforBreonna” on social media as well as to send a birthday card to Kentucky’s Governor Daniel Cameron demanding charges get filed against the officers. Calls to the governor’s officer were not returned.
The “Say Her Name” campaign was started in December 2014 by the African American Police Reform.
Kimberle Crenshaw, executive director of African American Police Forum and creator of #SayHerName, told GMA on Friday that black women killed by police violence cannot be an afterthought.
“This hashtag ‘Say Her Name’ was created for this purpose,” said Young. “Black women deserve the same energy as black men when they are killed by the police.”
Young also mentioned that “even less coverage” is given to transgender men and women who are killed by the police.
“‘Say Her Name’ attempts to make the deaths of black women an active part of this conversation by saying her names. If black lives really do matter, all black lives have to matter. That means black lives across gender have to be lifted up,” said Crenshaw.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a report in August 2019 that shows people of color — African Americans, Latino men, American Indians and Alaska Natives — are more likely than whites to be killed by the police.
“Over the life course, about 1 in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police. Women’s lifetime risk of being killed by police is about 20 times lower than men’s risk,” according to the report.
The researchers “expect” between 2.4 and 5.4 African American women and girls to be killed by police over the life course per 100,000 at current rates, according to the report.
“No-knock warrants come into focus
During the last 10 days, massive protests have erupted around the country after Floyd’s death was captured in excruciating detail on a cellphone video. Four now-former Minneapolis police officers were charged in connection to Floyd’s killing. One, Derek Chauvin, was charged with second-degree murder for allegedly causing Floyd’s death by pressing his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The others were charged with aiding and abetting murder.
No pleas were issued at their initial court appearance. But, two of the charged officers, Thomas Lane and Alexander Kueng — both rookies — said through their attorneys that they tried to stop Chauvin.
Earlier this week, Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker joined National Urban League leaders and Rev. Al Sharpton to propose legislative solutions to the situation that led to Floyd’s death. The three-pronged proposal included banning the use of “no-knock” warrants.
No-knock warrants — issued by a judge that gives law enforcement the authority to enter someone’s property without notification — have led to the death of at least three African American women and one girl, aged 7 to 92 since 2003.
In one case, 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was asleep on the couch in her grandmother’s living room in Detroit on May 16, 2010 when police entered, authorities said at the time. The officers were executing a “no-knock” warrant for a murder suspect while a reality television crew was filming, police said.
One of the officers, Joseph Weekley, collided with the 7-year-old girl’s grandmother causing him to accidentally fire. Aiyana was shot in the head.
Weekley was charged with involuntary manslaughter, but after the jury deadlocked, a judge dismissed the charges in 2015. The girl’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and in 2019, they reached an $8.25 million settlement before the civil trial started. There were no admissions of wrongdoing.
Four years before Aiyana was killed, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was shot and killed inside her Atlanta, Georgia, home during a botched drug raid.
Officers with the Atlanta Police Department executed a “no-knock” warrant on Johnston’s home, using false information from an informant who claimed he had purchased drugs from the home, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
After they broke down her front door, Johnston reached for a gun and fired one shot, police said at the time. Officers returned fire, killing her.
No drugs were found, and officers planted drugs in the home that had been recovered from a different raid, according to the AJC.
A total of nine officers were either criminally charged, sentenced to federal prison or disciplined for their role in the incident.
Johnston’s family reached a $4.9 million settlement with the city in 2010.
And three years before Johnston’s death, Alberta Spruill suffered a heart attack when NYPD officers mistakenly executed a “no-knock” warrant on her Harlem apartment.
The officers broke through her front door while she was getting dressed for work, tossed a flash grenade and entered with their guns drawn before handcuffing Spruill, police said. Police received bad information from a confidential informant that they were entering an apartment that a drug dealer used to stash drugs, guns and a pit bull. After the officers rammed into Spruill’s apartment, they realized they had the wrong apartment as she began to have trouble breathing and died an hour later, the New York Post reported.
Former NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly placed the unidentified lieutenant who decided to use the flash grenade on desk duty and banned use of flash grenades department-wide. The Manhattan District Attorney at the time investigated Spruill’s death, which was ruled a homicide, but no criminal charges were filed.
Spruill’s family settled a wrongful death notice of claim against the city for $1.6 million in October 2003.
High-profile cases of deadly encounters between police and African American women with mental illness police include an incident in October 1984 in the Bronx, New York. Eleanor Bumpers, 66, was shot and killed by NYPD Officer Stephen Sullivan while attempting to assist marshals to evict her because she was behind in her rent. Bumpers had a history of mental illness and was brandishing a knife before Sullivan fired two shots.
Thirty-two years later, Deborah Danner, 66-year-old mentally ill woman, was shot and killed in the Bronx by NYPD Officer Hugh Barry while wielding a baseball bat.
Sullivan was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges after a 1987 trial. Barry claimed self-defense and was also acquitted of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide after trial.