THE BLOG

The 'Angry Black Woman' Stereotype Is Justifying Police Brutality

08/13/2015 12:15 EDT | Updated 08/13/2016 05:59 EDT
bill oxford via Getty Images
Black woman in handcuffs

There are many reasons for black women to feel angry: they are treated as deserving victims of rape and abuse; their bodies are exotified and ridiculed -- often at the same time -- by men; their hairstyles are appropriated by white womenwith no respect for its origins. Their sons, partners, and brothers are being gunned down by police and so are they. Black women account for 20 per cent of black unarmed people killed by police over the past 15 years -- yet their deaths receive much less media attention than their male counterparts.

Recent police attacks on black women have been vicious, brutal and savage, often justified by police departments and arresting officers through the excuse that these black women were "angry" -- argumentative and sarcastic smart asses, talking back and full of attitude.

Sandra Bland is one of the latest examples of this "angry black woman" myth. Bland's head was slammed to the ground, and ultimately thrown in jail for "assaulting" officer Brian T. Encinia because she was "combative."

In May 2013, Keyarika Diggles, who had been arrested and jailed over a $100 parking ticket in Jasper, Texas, had her head slammed into the police station countertop by officer Ryan Cunningham after allegedly "arguing" (the video has no sound) with another officer, Ricky Grissom. She was dragged by her ankles to a jail cell. They broke her tooth and braces.

In July 2014, video footage emerged after Marlene Pinnock, a 51-year-old great-grandmother was pummelled to the ground by officer Daniel Andrew on the I-10 highway ramp in Los Angeles after being "physically combative." She was awarded $1.5 million after a settlement with the CHP.

In June 2015, cops stormed a Fairfield, Ohio pool because one of the kids didn't have swimming trunks. According to the police report, his pregnant mother, Krystal Dixon was charged with disorderly conduct after she "aggressively confronted pool staff" even though she had gone to get her son's swimming trunks. Dixon's 12-year-old daughter received fractured bones after being grabbed by the neck by an officer and thrown onto a squad car, and a 15-year-old female relative was pepper sprayed. Both teens were charged with resisting arrest.

That same month in McKinney, Texas, officer Eric Casebolt shoved 15-year-old Dajerria Becton's face into dirt and drew his gun on two black male teenagers. None of them were armed. His excuse? Becton, like the other young teenagers, "looked like suspects."

This May, eight-month pregnant Charlena Cooks was pushed to the ground by an officer and charged with resisting arrest while picking up her children from school in Barstow, California. A white woman claimed Cooks broke the window of her car. Barstow's police department said she was "argumentative" because refused to give her name to the officer -- which, under California law, was her right. The footage shows the officer attacking her seconds after he promises her she had two minutes to call her partner to verify the officer's claims.

When discussing Cooks' mistreatment online, I received a response from a non-black person of colour who suggested that it was deserved because Cooks was "rude." Had she just "listened," she wouldn't have been thrown down. It was her responsibility to avoid police brutality.

But why does someone deserve being attacked because they are "rude"? And what constitutes rude? If a white woman refused to give her name to police, would that be seen as "argumentative"? Would she be pummelled to the ground for not putting out her cigarette? And more importantly, with the horrific, trigger-happy attacks by police on black men and women, what is to say that cooperating will keep anyone from getting killed?

The justifications for the beatings of black women by officers are based on a two-fold perception that black women are angry, ignorant, rude and threatening, and that they aren't really women, but instead unbreakable and threatening beasts that must be beaten into compliance. Unlike their white counterparts, black women aren't viewed as delicate, fragile, and vulnerable; they are considered emotionally and physically durable; subhuman forces that are both unfeminine and inhuman.

The repeated claim that black women are angry or that their tone is "argumentative" leaks into policing in a fundamental way. "Tone policing" is a derailing tactic often used by a majority group to shift the direction of a conversation to focus on the reaction of someone else, often part of a marginalized group, as to relieve blame. It can be applied to officers who seek to justify their own groundless and unethical actions by putting blame on the tone of the "accused." Black women's tone, often contrived as "argumentative" (or emotional, which is often construed as anger or obnoxiousness) allows officers to justify an arrest or violent action.

However, it is obscene to assume that, given the target on black bodies by police, a black woman, doubly affected by her race and gender, wouldn't respond emotionally, out of fear or anger, when her experience is so closely tied to police extinction and violence.

The fact that many of these offending officers are protected by their police departments suggests a deeper issue at play -- that this "angry black woman" stereotype is deeply entrenched in the police institutions that govern us. Where masculinity is typically ridiculed by "the boys" for being beaten up or yelled at by a white woman, there is genuine anxiety for a man's well being when it comes to a confrontation by the ever-menacing black woman.

In a CNN interview, Cooks said her experience with police made her feel, "like an animal, like a monster, like I didn't exist, like I was not human." So are the effects of the "angry black woman" myth. It puts forth the false truth that black women are physically and mentally unbreakable. While we are resilient, we are not indestructible, and we certainly don't deserve police violence for knowing our rights and being angry when an officer is using his power in the attempts to manipulate us.

So let's not just say Her name, let's scream it out. Because she is not a monster, she is not an animal, and she exists as a human, as a courageous woman in a world decaying with hatred. And because we're angry and we shouldn't have our emotions dismissed as a racist trope. And if anyone is offended by our anger, that's their responsibility, not ours.

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

"Black Lives Matter" March