Black Women are the Victims of Police Violence, TooRoundup
tags: racism, violence, Police
Mary-Elizabeth Murphy is an associate professor of history at Eastern Michigan University and author of Jim Crow Capital: Women and Black Freedom Struggles in Washington, D.C., 1920-1945.
Almost a century ago, racialized police brutality in Washington, D.C., was surging. It included the shootings of 40 black men between the late 1920s and 1930s, as well as white officers subjecting at least 29 black women and girls, ranging in age from 15 to 68, to harassment, abuse and physical violence.
No one was spared: not model citizens nor those who labored in the underground economy. Officers harassed teenage girls and mentally ill women. In several cases, the same officers who attacked black men barged into black women’s homes, policed them on the street, punched them in the face, knocked out their teeth and hurled racial epithets at them.
To give one example, in 1936, sisters Martha and Ruth Lloyd, students at Dunbar High School, were exiting a bus at the corner of Tennessee Avenue and 14th Street NE. The sisters noticed that a riot was unfolding on the street and tried to escape the violence. But Officer John Sirola, dressed in plainclothes, grabbed Martha Lloyd and pinned her to the ground. Both sisters were arrested, and in the car, Sirola beat Martha Lloyd with his blackjack because she “sassed” him.
This was not Sirola’s first use of force against a black citizen. Five years earlier, he and another officer had barged into the home of Henry Lincoln Johnson, a Pullman porter and veteran of World War I. They beat Johnson with a blackjack and broke his skull. While both officers were suspended from duty, Sirola was acquitted of any wrongdoing, and he went on to wield the same weapon on a 17-year-old black girl.
The uptick in police brutality in the ’20s and ’30s can be traced to many factors. White police officers instinctively associated black women with criminality, arresting them at much higher rates than white women for disorderly conduct, intoxication, enticing prostitution and during Prohibition, bootlegging.
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