We are told that the Republicans are waging a war on women. It is true that they are on an endless quest to restrict access to abortion, if not outlaw it altogether, and want to prevent insurance companies from paying for contraception. In Wisconsin, the Republican governor recently signed legislation which repealed that state’s equal pay enforcement act.
The Republicans deserve the label, but if there is a war on women in America today, it is being directed primarily at black women as a group and at their young children as well. Black women have been criminalized for the most minor of offenses, for enrolling their children in schools outside of their home districts, and even when their children are victimized by other people.
In Ohio in 2011, Kelly Williams-Bolar, was convicted of felony theft and spent ten days in jail for enrolling her children in a school district that was not her own. The merits of the case were debatable, as her children lived with their grandfather in the district in question, but no matter, Ms. Williams-Bolar had to be taught a lesson and she and her father were indicted. The governor did reduce her sentence, calling it unduly harsh, but she was still convicted of a crime.
In Connecticut, Tanya McDowell was sentenced to five years in jail after she used her babysitter’s address to send her son to school. Ms. McDowell was homeless, living in her vehicle. It could be said that she did live in the district, but again, only pursuing criminal charges and sending this mother to jail would satisfy local prosecutors. McDowell had a drug conviction as well, so the war on drugs and the war on black women were both used against her.
All over the country, black women are criminalized for bizarre reasons. In some cases, they are even punished for doing what other people have done to their children. In Cobb County, Georgia, Raquel Nelson’s son was struck and killed by a drunk driver when she crossed the street with him. Because she was crossing at the green and not in between, Nelson was charged with vehicular manslaughter even though someone else killed her child.
Of course, the state of Georgia doesn’t care about black children at all. Six year old Salecia Johnson discovered that when she was handcuffed after having a temper tantrum in her Milledgeville, Georgia school. Neither the school nor the police were at all contrite, with the school calling the child “violent and disruptive” and the police chief adding that Salecia was handcuffed to insure her own safety. Black people are punished for driving, for walking down the street, for having children, for putting their children in school, for acting the way children act, and even for having children who are killed by other people. We are punished, in short, because we still exist.
This imperative is a legacy of slavery, which lest we forget existed for more than two hundred years after Europeans first arrived here. Slavery lasted longer than freedom has existed, and the notion that black people are the physical property of white people has never gone away. It ebbs and it flows and today it is flowing in full force, and explains the mass incarceration state, police brutality, and all the other ills which befall us as a people.
The concern for women and children espoused as an American ideal was always a lie. The weakest among us have always been the most prone to be victimized, and black people arrived here as the ultimate victims, property. The level of disdain and hatred directed towards us is intense, and these recent examples of oppression indicate that it is worsening.
Mass action is the only thing that can possibly keep these forces at bay. The worst atrocities committed against black people happen when the system doesn’t punish the perpetrators. It is vital that all of these outrages be answered for and that we make it clear we are not fooled by the presence of black presidents, or rich black celebrities. We know that the consequences of political disengagement can be deadly. We have no option but to restart the freedom movement and never let it end.
If not, black women will be arrested as soon as they give birth. Why wait. Punish them and their children as quickly as possible.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in Black Agenda Report, where this article first appeared. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.