Search results for 'Bed intruder'

Do we need a body count to count?: Notes on the serial murders of Black women

23 Dec

“Number 47 looks like my second-grade teacher. Number 83 resembles one of my daughters. Number 66 calls to mind my children’s grandmother. And although some faces were cropped from near-naked bodies, others were shot outdoors, wearing boots and jackets,” said LA Times Reporter, Sandy Banks, commenting on photos of unidentified Black females.

Debra Jackson. Click. Henrietta Wright. Click. Barbara Ware. Click. These are some names of Black women who were sexually assaulted, drugged, murdered, and dumped in LA alleys and the backstreets by a former city trash collector.  As news broke about a serial killer dubbed the Grim Sleeper, I found myself at the computer clicking on the still images of 180 nameless, numbered Black women and girls published by the LA Times.  I sat with each photo picturing each life—and remembering the life of my aunt who was murdered years ago.

For women who are poor, who are Black, who are substance abusers, who are single/mothers, who are sex workers, and for women who possess no Olan Mills yearbook portrait like that of Natalee Holloway, how do we make sense of their lives?  Do we see them?

The national news coverage of the 1985-2007 LA murders has been sensational.  It has created a weeklong media event where images of rape survivors, recovering addicts, missing persons, family friends and kinfolk serve as a collective spectacle to construct a gritty drama about Lonnie Franklin Jr., the accused killer cast as the Grim Sleeper.  The first LA Times web photo of an unidentified Black woman, for example, included a star rating.  (The star rating, 3 out of 5, has been removed from the photo and women who’ve confirmed their identity with the LAPD have had their photos removed from the site.) Also, the CNN website mirrors entertainment pages for television crime series, such as CSI.  The opening page resembles a movie trailer.

Buried beneath the news headlines and hidden between police press releases is the actual story: The Black male serial killer. I am unsure if the media public is appalled by the dead Black women as we are fascinated by Franklin because he represents the methodicalness assigned to white male serial killers.

The Franklin case prompted me to think about other news stories reporting updates or new cases in 2010 about serial murderers, Walter Ellis and  Jason Thomas Scott, who targeted Black women and girls in Wisconsin and Maryland.

You would think the separate news stories about the systematic killing of Black women and girls in different regions would launch a national conversation about gender violence in Black communities.  In the same week that a major network news station reported the LA murders, it also celebrated the No. 1 YouTube video called “Bed Intruder.” The video has been watched more than 54 million times.  It uses actual news footage of Antonio Dodson, a concerned brother who reports on the attempted rape of his sister Kelly.  I remain dumbfounded by the complete thematic disconnect and the utter disregard for the actual loss of Black girls and women.  It is as if media makers and the consuming public are unable to see Black women unless we are repackaged as entertainment.

I began thinking about this piece yesterday.  I imagined there were other stories to tell that would not sour our holiday eggnog.  Then, I listened to the interview by Stephanie Jones, who created MOMS (Missing Or Murdered Sisters) to raise money and national awareness about the serial murders of poor Black women in Rocky Mount (NC).  She had to rent a billboard to attract local media attention. But after watching the morning news about another serial murderer yesterday, I could not look away.  At a press conference Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced a $37,000 reward (from the city and police fraternal organizations) for the arrest of a Black man accused of killing three non-Black female sex workers.  The news coverage about Philadelphia’s “Kensington Strangler” brought it all home.  My aunt, Mildred Darlene Durham, lay dead from gunshot wounds in the Kensington area of Norfolk (VA) in 1998.

At end of group sessions, Black feminist Ruth Nicole Brown used to invite me and other members from an Illinois collective called SOLHOT (Saving Our Lives, Hearing Our Truths) to light an incense to recall another person or to remember ourselves.  We stood face to face so that we might see each other.  One by one, we would say the names of a loved one so she/we would not be forgotten.

This is my virtual incense to Darlene and every other Black woman whose face has been etched in my memory.

I do see you. You have not been forgotten.

You are loved. You are missed.

 

Antoine Dodson’s Sister: On Invisibility as Violence

20 Aug

(Click here for original news story)

We are in the midst of Antoine Dodson Mania! For those that don’t know him, he’s the now famous man who fought off the intruder that climbed into his sister’s second story window in the middle of the night and tried to attack her with her daughter present. Remember his reaction? Hilarious right? I mean pissed off that his sister was attacked! LMFAO! So hilarious that now there is this song that has remixed the news clip and turned it into the new summertime hit.  It has even made the iTunes Top 20 and we can purchase sexual assualt for $1.99 and jam all day!  And the star of all this is of course was Antoine Dodson for his “comedic” reaction to violence and the Gregory Brothers for their creative innovation of putting it to song. Sarcasm aside, I must admit that to remix a news story like that is pretty amazing.  But what does it mean to remix violence against black women when our stories are already left behind?

See usually when a black woman is attacked we find some way of making it her fault. We ask questions like what was she wearing? What does she do for a living? How many sexual partners has she had in the past? You know, the typical stuff that removes accountability from her attacker.  But in this case, where a black woman minding her damn business awoke to an attacker in her second story apartment, normal victim-blaming would not work. So now what do we do, because we obviously can’t take a black woman’s story of violence seriously? Well, that’s simple.  We marginalize the attack and focus the story on her brother, whose anger we can exploit because it fits into stereotypes of queer masculinity that provide comic relief. The producers used the footage to lock Antoine in a frame, to capture him in place, in order to tell a story that fits their truths—black women’s confrontations with sexual violence are either not real or unimportant.  Framed under the guise of “news” this masquerades as a story about a woman awaking to an intruder in her bed but is really a story about a funny black man, hilarious in his anger. It was never about her.

I think we have to talk about the power of invisibility. As a child, I participated in the normal debates about what superpowers were the most desirable. For me, invisibility won hands down!  To be able to be invisible was the most super of all the powers.  See, I was nosey so being invisible would allow me to know exactly what my mother and her sisters talked about when I was shooed out of the room.  It would allow me to see what the forbidden boy’s bathroom looked like.  And those moments of being in a new place wouldn’t have felt nearly as terrifying if I could turn on the power of invisibility. Invisibility also afforded protection. Remember Violet from The Incredibles? Invisibility not only protects her from being noticed by the young man she has a crush on, it keeps her safe as she travels though the evil lab in search of her father.  Or Harry Potter and that banging invisibility cloak. It not only allowed him to freely explore the campus, but also often saved his life.

But as invisibility oscillates between power and protection, the ways in which it can be used as a tool of oppression become, well invisible.  For women of color, invisibility is often forced and along with hypervisibility, it is used to as means to discredit and oppress. This is indeed the case with Kelly Dodson, made invisible through the hypervisibility of her brother.  Her invisibility is highlighted by the numerous Antoine Dodson for President T-shirts and paraphernalia that exists in the same space that doesn’t even remember Kelly’s name. (In fact, I had to go back and watch the video to even remember her name; a video I found by merely typing in “Antoine Dodson”).

Kelly Dodson’s experience of violence gets reduced to a fragment of the news segment and even further condensed to one line in the song: “I was attacked by some idiot in the projects.” And while Antoine is central, that too is nothing to be celebrated. He is hypervisible as a caricature for public amusement. We all know Antoine’s name thanks to but the “Bed Intruder Song” the Gregory Brothers have taken his voice chopped it up, synthesized it, and put it to a beat so that they are no longer recognizable as his own.  He wasn’t looking for fame.  He was angry that he had to save his sister from being attacked! Antoine has been hypervisiblized in order to invisibilize Kelly. This is not the invisibility of Harry Potter, free to put it on and take it off, this is an act of erasure.

There is a difference between choosing invisibility and being made invisible.  See the choice of being invisible also comes with the recognition that you’re missing.  When Harry and the crew would return from their invisible outings people often asked where they were.  When you are made invisible through processes of erasure, people don’t even acknowledge that you’re gone.  It’s like you never existed.  So in a story that begins with the headline “a woman awakes” we don’t even acknowledge that the entire segment focused on a man—her brother.  We don’t even acknowledge that the moment she is the most upset and telling us that her young daughter was in the bed with her, the news reporter is talking over her, so this reality exists as background fodder.

As women of color, we have long yearned for black women’s experiences with oppression to be paid attention to.  Our stories of sexual assault, inside and outside of our communities never make the evening news.  And now, when we finally are awarded a few minutes of attention, we are  simultaneously erased.  We are further erased through the music that has increasingly been used to enslave rather than liberate us.  It is the music that has put us in a trance and even we are singing along to a black woman being attacked.  Singing along until we agree with her erasure.  Until her erasure becomes more of a reality than the attack.  Every note we sing erases Kelly Dodson.

I demand a remix to this remix!  One who’s beat doesn’t influence your body to sway and your lips to smile as you sing the words.  One that instead causes your body to curl over in pain and your eyes to water.  One that makes you feel sad, or better yet angry that this happened! Can we remix this remix into a story that centers the black woman who was attacked?

So here is my letter to Kelly Dodson.

Dear Kelly,

We know that in these conversations about this internet sensation, YOU are missing.  We know that when they’re jamming to the music they aren’t thinking about YOU.  We know that you were never central, not in the original news story, not in the song, and not now.  All of this has been about its about trivializing your brother’s anger (characterizing as “emotions running high” instead of emotions running normal for someone whose family member was attacked), the creativity of these white boys (a group who has always profited off the abuse of black women), and the power and creative force of technology.  Well the Crunk Feminist Collective says it’s all about you!  We are sorry that this happened to you.  We are sorry that when you should be at peace in your home you were attacked.  We are sorry and angry that your little girl had to be present for that. We are sorry that you no longer feel safe in your own home.  We are grateful that you had someone home to help you and we are sorry that this is happening to your story.  We want to center you. We want this moment to be used to talk about the realities of our communities as spaces of vulnerability and danger for women of color.  We want to remember you as we work to build the communities we want to see, because lets be real, we have learned to make due but for us are neighborhoods are often scary as shit. We live in a state of violence that is so common that people can sing along to it.

We understand that you live in a community like many of us, one that is so far lacking in social safety nets that that you’re brother had to envision mechanism of accountability that would hold up regardless of a response from a police state that more often than not disregards violence done on the bodies of black women.  We completely understand the realities that would make your brother tell your attacker “you don’t have to confess we’re looking for you we’re gonna find you” and when he does that he’s “gonna beat his ass and then call the police while I beat his ass because I want you to feel what you made my sister feel.” And we don’t think his or your anger is comedic and we keep his statements in mind as we attempt to build an anti-violence movement that doesn’t combat violence with violence while recognizing the difficulty of doing so.

From this point on when we hear the “Bed Intruder Song” we will force ourselves to center you, and we will think about where we stand in our anti-violence movement.  We will dedicate a moment of silence to making a safe world for women and girls like you and your daughter.  We want to let you know that this is not okay and we are fed the fuck up!  Now Run Tell Dat Homeboy!

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Armed and… Ambivalent?

18 Oct

Let’s begin with a confession: I was born and raised in the great state of Texas and prior to two weeks ago, I had never fired a gun.  That will certainly be surprising to some folks as Texas often invokes images of shotguns, six shooters and gun-toting cowboys.  For me, however, Texas is about home, family, the State Fair and where my own brand of quirky country makes perfect sense.  While, like the rest of the country, I grew up in a pervasive gun culture, there was not one in my immediate family.  I didn’t grow up around hunting trips, shotguns, rifles and pistols.  My experience with guns was not linked to family or individual recreation, as it is for some, but to fear, intimidation and violence.  I remember having to run, duck and hide more than my fair share because somebody at a football game or an after party decided to flex and start shooting in a crowd.  I know the sting of losing friends and classmates to shootings and self-inflicted gun shot wounds.  I remember how I felt being pushed inside a vault as three men armed with guns robbed my partner and me.  So, while I had never shot a gun before, I knew all too well its power and effects.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself at a gun range on the outskirts of Atlanta.  It was supposed to be an outing with friends (somebody found a groupon, so you know how that goes). I thought it might be a chance to address some of my fear of guns so I agreed.  Slowly but surely, everybody got a little too busy to go and I was the last woman standing.  Far be it from me to waist money or a good coupon, so I went.  I didn’t fully realize how frightened I would be until I walked in the door of the range.  For a while I was the only woman and one of two people of color in the building.  It was strange to be standing in a room full of firearms and white men in camouflage hunting caps and biker boots.  That could have been a very different scene at a different time of day, in a different location. I was fully aware that I was out of place and that being out place as a woman and as a person of color is always potentially dangerous.  I remained out of place in the range that day as I jumped every time I heard a gun fire, including my own.   I shot fifty rounds and even though it turns out that I’m pretty good shot, I never felt fully comfortable loading the bullets, holding the gun or pulling the trigger. Yet, a mix of exhilaration, pride and fear left me shaking for at least thirty minutes after I left the range.   Though I wasn’t fully sure how to process it, and I’m still not, I was sure I would be back.

And back I was, this time at an outdoor range in Texas and anything but alone as I went with my mother, her partner and a good family friend who owns the guns we used, and who happens to be white. This trip felt decidedly different from my first experience.  I am sure it was the combination of sunlight, fresh air and not being by myself.  It wasn’t lost on me, however, that though I was not alone this time I was still very much out of place. Two Black women, a Black man and a White man are still an “odd” grouping to many.  It was certainly “odd” to most of the folks at the gun range that day as we got plenty of stares and double takes, some lasting longer than others.  It wasn’t long before I noticed two white men who had taken a particular interest in us.  Staring each time I stepped up to operate the manual launcher as we shot at clay targets and loudly commenting on my shooting and on our family friend’s efforts to assist me, they made their disgust and discomfort at our presence known.  It was a stark reminder of the history/reality of guns, race and place in the South or anywhere for that matter.

For me, both of these experiences at gun ranges in two different major Southern cities brought up issues of race, place and belonging.  There was certainly something powerful in my ability to walk into these ranges, spaces dominated by white masculinity, and be defiantly “out of place.”  Yet, I also felt “out of place” in my own skin as I tried to reconcile my enjoyment of recreational shooting with my own history and politics.  How can I understand my experiences with gun violence on a number of different levels with wielding a gun in the controlled environment of a gun range?  Can I be interested in guns, even recreationally, and still be vehemently anti-violence?  Where do guns figure in my Black feminist politic?  Is there room to think about women, safety and guns in a kind of feminist politics of self-defense?  While going to the gun range was not about self-defense for me, as I write this a local news story is airing about a young Black woman who shot one of two men attempting to break into her home at 11am in broad daylight.  Her father says he is proud of her for defending herself.  He said that he taught her to use the gun for just that purpose and now he will teach her to forgive herself for doing what she had to do.  I’m relieved that she was able to defend herself but I am afraid because she will still have to wait for the final word from a grand jury to decide whether there will be charges. And Black women don’t always have an easy time making claims of self-defense especially not when guns are involved, just ask Marissa Alexander

Clearly, I’m left with more questions than answers.  On some level, I wish I could say that going to these two ranges has given me a clear position either completely for or against guns but it hasn’t.  What I am sure of is that these two experiences refuse to let me take any position for granted.  They are, however, undoubtedly forcing me to think deeply about my politics, my fears and my history in order to move more fully into an understanding that refuses neat or logical conclusion but bravely tangles with the messiness and nuance that lies at the heart of the personal and the political.

Extinction Level Event

12 Aug

Image of a modern city in ruins as the sun rises

*The following is a polemic rant. You’ve been warned*

So I am totally blown by the amount of ridiculousness in the world right now. I’m so overwhelmed by it all that I’m seriously on my Octavia game, pondering the necessity or need for humanity at all. A close friend said it’s gonna take an extinction level event for people to care and I agree, although I wonder why the threat doesn’t feel imminent to people right now.

BP Oil Spill cleanup won’t be done til 2014 and that’s a conservative estimate.

Wyclef has the nerve to run for president of Haiti (haven’t the Haitian People suffered enough?! Yo, even Jeff Spicoli is saying fall back!). Seriously?!

Landslides and fires are wiping places off the map!

Google, whose public mantra was “Don’t be evil” has recently reincarnated into the Devil himself and is teaming up with Verison to make the internet even more inaccessible and costly for folks.

I don’t really even f*ck with the Obamas like that but Michelle’s trip to Spain being touted as really insensitive makes no sense as people tune in to television that stays supporting extravagant lifestyles. I want to compare prices between her trip to Spain and the cast of Real Housewives of New Jersey’s trip to Italy.

And speaking of Bravo TV, Top Chef killed Kenny! (You Bastards!!!) I don’t want to go into all the ways that this was racist and I’m sure there will be those who want me to prove it but I have to say I’m done with that. I’m done with proving and explaining why racism is ever present despite a Black man in the oval office (post racial world my ass!).

Shirley Sherrod, Antoine D, The Tea Party, bigoted churches, are all evidence in a case we are continually trying to prove, though the judge, jury, and prosecutor are all one in the same.

I’m done. I am moving away from the (in)justice system and embracing my new love, Nihilism. At least she makes sense to me and I don’t have to finish my dissertation…


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