As news emerged from the U.S. Attorney’s office this week that they will not pursue charges in the Shanquella Robinson case, I thought about my own daughter who is just a few years older than Shanquella. I thought about the gift I gave to her last year on her 28th birthday; A pink bag that states “PROTECT BLACK WOMEN” in capital letters.
Just like the lives of Black Women and girls, the bag has become an accessory. A convenient concept that you can take with you and then put away when it no longer serves you. This is the sentiment each time our lives are discarded.
Statistically, Black women are killed at a higher rate than any other group of women. Despite our calls to action, outrage, protest, and demands after the murders of Breonna Taylor, Korryn Gaines, Atatiana Jefferson, Ma’kiah Bryant, Mya Hall, and countless other victims, Black Women and girls are no safer from being harmed or murdered. And while the aforementioned murders were performed by police officers, what remains true is that no matter the murderer, Black women, and girls are seldom seen as victims. Instead, they continue to be seen as deserving of harm or unable to be harmed.
But what does justice look like in a country in which the chattel slavery system of America’s early history manifests itself today? A system where Black people are incarcerated in prison at higher rates than any other race. I firmly reject the current prison system and do not believe it can be reformed. It must be completely dismantled and replaced with alternatives. In the case of Shanquella Robinson, the question I come back to is what would be an adequate alternative to prison for those who fatally harmed her?
Alternatives such as Restorative Justice don’t seem appropriate for such a heinous crime. Yet, I’m fully aware that those of us who believe in alternatives to prison can not selectively apply these alternatives.
I don’t have an answer and it’s difficult for me to be hopeful for any type of systemic change; One where Black Women and girls’ full humanity is seen and respected, and where Black People are not overrepresented in prison, or better yet, not in prisons at all because they don’t exist.
I want slogans to have meanings, not just words and hashtags. Fannie Lou Hamer tells us that “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Black Women and girls deserve to be free.