More Than Gun Violence

There is a story I have not wanted to write or talk about. When the story first broke, I spoke of it only with my husband. It rocked me in similar ways to discovering what happened to Sandra Bland, except even writing didnt seem like it was available to me to process. 

Recently, I have seen a few female friends posting the story and attempting to give language to it, so I thought I would give it a try too. The news story is of Daniel Holtzclaw who is accused of raping 13 women- most of them black. Google his name and you will find the details of Holtzclaw using his authority as an officer to pull women over and using his power to penalize them as cover to sexually assault them. 

And its terrifying. 

I will not recount the details here, but surely you can believe the horrific commingling of shame, fear, and helplessness his victims must have experienced. And I am afraid too. When I first heard of the number of under-handed ways he used his authority to victimize women, I went into strategic mode. What apps could I put on my phone? How could I call my husband the fastest? Should we have a code word? Can he use GPS or Find My Friends to get to me? Should I carry pepper spray? Would I use it? If I managed to get away, where would I go? Who would believe me? 

The more I talked about it, the more I started to shake. So I stopped talking about it that night. Stopped thinking about it. Until I would pass an officer on the highway, on the street, walking downtown. And then the fear would flood back. The first time I cried. I didnt cry out of fear. I cried because the fear was so specific, so clear, so imaginable. I cried because my list just got longer- I fear the multiple ways my body could be violated, brutalized.

Some days, I try to convince myself that this is unreasonable. Its one story. Except that the Associated Press recently reported that they have found "1,000 officers who lost their badges in a six year period" for sexual assault or sexual misconduct. The AP goes on to say that this number under-represents the abuse because there are so many agencies who dont report this information, who dont revoke badges, and who never receive reports of misconduct because victims are scared of retaliation. Though it could surely be helpful, Im not sure I want to know the true number of officers using their authority to violate the bodies of others. I dont want to know how many are guards, how many patrol streets, how many are in our schools. Its quite a terrifying thought. 

While I might be able to forget this story and ignore the statistics, what I cannot do is ignore the stories that pop up in my own life. I will not be giving details, but there are two people in my life who have been sexually assaulted by an officer- one male and one female. One included public shaming in the middle of the street after being pulled over and "searched". The other was raped in police custody. Both were devastating for the victims. Devastating. 

So when we talk about police brutality against black bodies, we cannot just talk about gun violence. We have to talk about the little girl who are thrown around at the pool party, the little girl who was tossed across her classroom, and the women who are being sexually violated. When we talk about violence, we cannot limit our discussions any longer... I cannot limit my discussions any longer. Because to limit the conversation is to not have the opportunity to name it, to fix it, to heal those who have already been hurt. 

And much healing is necessary. Can you imagine how much healing the little girl who was brutally tossed across her classroom will need? The shame of it being so public, the physical pain that was caused, the trauma of walking into that classroom again, the emotions of not being protected by her teacher, the fear and distrust she will carry for a long time regarding officers. And she is but one. 

So, Church, we must keep talking about police brutality and criminal {in}justice and race. But we cannot short-cut the conversation. We cant assume that by focusing on the use of guns/tasers that we are uplifting the extent of the problem. We are not. And just like the violence of guns can be traced historically, so can sexual violence. We know that sexual violence, particularly against black women, is centuries old. I recently remarked to a friend that the details of Holtzclaw's charges are another example of how close we are to history. 

I am here for discussing the plight of black men in America. I will continue to speak out against police killings. I will not be "calling out" folks also keep writing about the ways this particular violence must stop. But I also refuse to lose black women in the process.  The ways women experience oppression is no less important, and must be uplifted by the Church if we are sincere in our desire to chase after shalom. 

Austin Brown