I feel privileged to be in the United States during the first-ever global movement against racism. Eighteen countries around the world and all 50 states of the US have held large-scale protests for police accountability. People of every hue are showing up with masks on the streets of America demanding justice amid two pandemics – Covid-19 and racial injustice.

On June 5, along with thousands of others, I took a knee on the steps of New York’s Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, to demand racial justice and an end to police brutality. We called for justice for Breonna Taylor at a vigil on a day that would have been her 27th birthday. Taylor’s name was on posters and on t-shirts – some carried flowers for her as a birthday remembrance. We marched from the Cathedral through Harlem in the pouring rain, stopping at the statues of anti-slavery figures Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, chanting anti-racist slogans, cheered on with drumbeats, whistles and salutes of solidarity.

Today, the name of George Floyd who was brutally killed by a police officer on May 25, is known world-wide. His cold-blooded murder, caught on video camera, sent shock waves around the world. Due to the efforts of Black Lives Matter, an organisation started in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American boy who was gunned down while walking to a convenience store, the issue of police violence against African-American men has gained global visibility. Black Life Matters has been inscribed in huge, bold yellow painted letters on the road leading to the White House, the most commanding seat of power in the world.

A botched police raid

Breonna Taylor’s name is unfamiliar to most outside of the US. She was shot by the police on March 13. She was an “essential worker” during Covid-19, who dreamed of becoming a nurse. She was fatally killed by police in what seems to have been a botched raid. The African American Women’s Policy Forum is spearheading a campaign called #SayHerName to draw attention to the police violence meted out to black women and girls including trans women and women with disabilities who have been less visible in the larger Black Lives Matter movement.

The vigils being held for Breonna Taylor are part of this campaign. It is rooted in a long and powerful tradition of black feminist activism, in no way takes the spotlight away from the police violence towards African American men, rather it expands the movement to include the violence perpetrated against black women.

Committed to ending structural racism, the African American Women’s Policy Forum documents stories of African American women and girls, and trans black women who have been killed by the police. The circumstances in which they were killed is told and their photos shared. They are no longer nameless, faceless or just a number in police records. The forum notes that African American women who constitute 7% of the population account for 20% of the unarmed people killed by US police since 1999. Fifty-seven percent of those women and girls were unarmed when killed.

Protesters march holding placards and a portrait of Breonna Taylor during a demonstration against racism and police brutality, in Hollywood, California, on June 7. Credit: Agustin Paullier / AFP

The forum points out that African American women, like African American men, are stopped and frisked disproportionately. Black women are pulled up for minor traffic violations, creating the pretext for criminal investigation, and in some instances, the unleashing of unwarranted lethal violence. High rates of poverty in the community, and the preponderance of low-income households headed by women, has meant that African American women are often caught committing petty crimes, which can result in deadly violence.

The US’s so-called War on Drugs has caused havoc in black communities. In fact, that is what happened to Breonna Taylor the night she has fatally shot. The police, investigating a drug deal in the neighborhood, had a no knock search warrant to enter her home. Her boyfriend said when they broken down the door, not knowing that they were the police, he fired in self-defence. In return, Taylor was fatally shot eight times in her own bed.

Deadly violence has also taken place when police have been called for help in situations of mental health or domestic violence.

The #SayherName campaign has specific demands. They call for an investment in community safety and security without police officers; the defunding of police and the placement of those resources for mental health and domestic violence services and shelters; increasing job opportunities in the black community; addressing the homes as a site of violence against black women; ending the use of no knock warrants, and the practice of sending officers to respond to mental health and domestic violence.

“Black women cannot be an after-thought in the fight against unjust policing,” said lawyer and scholar Kimberley Crenshaw, one of the founders of the movement. ” This article is my commitment to saying her name, making visible the names of the many African American women who have lost their lives because of a racist, broken police system.