Korryn Gaines. India Beaty. Michelle Cusseaux. These are our daughters. They were taken from us mercilessly by police violence. They were Black women. If we don’t say their names, who will?
We are mothers of the #SayHerName Movement. We joined the Women’s March on Washington along with the African American Policy Forum to honor the memories of our daughters and all women of color killed by police. As we move into Donald Trump’s presidency, we will not shy away from our demands for public recognition and national accountability for police brutality against Black women.
As we marched, carrying posters with our babies’ names and faces on them, hundreds of people took up the “Say Her Name” chant. The crowd called out the names of Korryn, India and Michelle, as well as Tanisha Anderson, Kayla Moore, Natasha McKenna, India Kager, Deborah Danner, Aiyana Stanley Jones and Mya Hall. Though we wished they were marching by our sides, it was an honor to represent them at such a historic event and tell their stories to so many.
We know the pain of losing children to state violence. We know the pain of striving for justice and being denied at every turn. We choose to tell their stories in the hopes that more mothers won’t have to go through what we’ve been through.
In August 2016, Baltimore police officers fatally shot Korryn Gaines and wounded her 5-year-old son after a several hour standoff at her apartment. In March 2016, Norfolk, Virginia police officers shot India Beaty five times in the back while responding to a reported argument that erupted between two men in the parking lot in which she was parked. In August 2014, just days after Michael Brown was killed, Phoenix police sergeant Percy Dupra shot and killed Michelle Cusseaux at point-blank range in her home while responding to a mental health call placed by her family.
Days before the march, news broke that the officers who killed India would not be charged with any wrongdoing. The Baltimore police officer who killed Korryn and shot her toddler son also face no criminal charges. Percy Dupra continues to serve on the Phoenix Police Force.
We marched to seek justice, accountability and public reckoning for the unchecked state violence that led to the deaths of our daughters and so many more like them. We marched in solidarity with the other #SayHerName Movement families as well. We marched to show the world that racialized police violence crosses boundaries of gender, age, sexuality and education level. We march to support one another and to uplift the reality that our daughters’ killings were not isolated incidents.
Our hearts and spirits were raised by the outpouring of support we received from our fellow marchers. Yet we were also reminded how far we are from a point where Black women killed by the police are given equal measures of outrage and grief as their brothers. It hurt standing next to the stage during Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” performance, which recognized Black victims of police violence, and realizing that none of our daughters were going to be remembered. Although mothers of police brutality victims were present on stage, not a single mother of a woman killed by the police was represented––despite it being the Women’s March. It reminded us why we must continue to fight to shed light on the violence enacted against Black women and girls across the nation and world.
When we take up the call that “Black Lives Matter,” that has to include ALL Black lives. That is why we continue to work on the #SayHerName Campaign, which the African American Policy Forum launched in February 2015 on the principle that “inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence.” From uplifting the stories of the Black women who were raped by former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw, to convening healing spaces for family members who lost Black women to police violence, #SayHerName places those most impacted by police brutality at the center of efforts for visibility and justice. #SayHerName reveals that what happened to those we loved was more than just our personal tragedy. It was part of a broader pattern of state violence against Black women and girls.
We will continue the call to Say Her Name until no more mothers have to live through the loss of their daughters to senseless state violence. Nothing we can do will bring back our precious daughters or erase the heartache we live with every day. But fighting for justice together reminds us that we are not alone and that our pain matters. Our daughters matter. And as we marched on Washington on January 21, we felt their spirits with us.
*Rachel Anspach contributed writing/reporting.