On July 4, 2014, California Highway Patrolman Daniel Andrew was caught via cellphone camera straddling and beating 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock on a Los Angeles freeway in the middle of the day. Footage captures the police officer relentlessly pummeling Pinnock with closed fists to her face while she attempts to shield herself from the blows. The officer claimed to be protecting her from herself as she had been walking on the busy roadway.
Criminal charges have yet to be filed against the officer, but according to reports, the CHP settled a suit against the agency for $1.5 million and Andrew resigned from his position.
Just last month, the officer responsible for the murder of unarmed Rakia Boyd, 22, was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter after he shot into a crowd of people on a dark Chicago night, striking Boyd in the back of the head. She died two days later at the hospital.
Both officers slipped out of the hands of justice, and the stories of these Black women played minor roles in recent protests for justice as well as media coverage. But it’s not just police brutality against Black women that is frequently buried beneath the girth of reports against men. Domestic and intimate partner violence, rape and assaults against Black women are often underreported and not given due diligence within the system. Assailant protection and ignored coverage of criminal acts against women thus pardons violence and, in many ways, celebrates it.
Floyd Mayweather’s blighted past with domestic abuse has resurfaced, with women coming forward about their violent encounters with the boxer. A disturbing handwritten complaint filed by his then 10-year-old son Koraun describes Mayweather kicking and beating his ex, Josie Harris, in her home as the children and Mayweather’s friend James watched.
These incidents aren’t unique, however. A quick search on the Internet will reveal a number of recorded incidents of violent acts against women, some in which the violence was recorded for entertainment for platforms such as World Star Hip-Hop and YouTube.
With the advent of social media and a more progressively violent media culture, including sports, America has somehow nurtured a tolerance for unacceptable behavior, says psychologist Jane Fort, Ph.D.
“Just look at football. That’s an abusive sport, and they are just now deciding to put some limits on the things you can do that have in the past led to concussions,” Fort says. “We have these stories about sports figures who are abusive, but [athletes] are dealing with having to get revved up to play the game on Sunday, and then what happens on Monday when you’re still revved up? Once you get into that angry space, then it’s hard to come down off of it.”
She says athletes like Mayweather or Ray Rice, for example, come from a world where violence is condoned and essentially engrained in their psyches. As a result, aggressive behavior becomes a major part of their makeup.
Fort also explains that it’s these types of activities that are at their core. In addition to a passive tolerance, she says women still are still treated as sex objects and items for their gratification.
“It’s still a part of the same attitude that women are not to take up your time or your attention. They are to enhance a man. It’s not about having a meaningful relationship with a woman. It’s about a man’s ego. The laws say differently, but we are still treated as second-class citizens.”
American culture is saturated with violence and aggressive sexual behavior that tends to perpetrate a message of male dominance.
Sean “Diddy” Combs recently released an ad with his girlfriend, Cassie, promoting a new fragrance line called 3AM. Diddy claims the ad is an expression of love, yet the imagery is cringeworthy and begs the question of how love is portrayed in media. The ad begins with Diddy and Cassie, both visibly impassioned with anger, exiting a dark vehicle into a dark alleyway. The camera cuts to Diddy chasing Cassie into the darkness. Images of violent shoving, choking, nakedness and slapping flash throughout the ad, ending with a naked Diddy on top of a naked Cassie, suggesting they’re having intercourse.
Some argue that it’s just a sensuous love scene a little too hot for television, whereas others argue that it insinuates a violent domestic dispute ending with male gratification. The lines are blurred, but it speaks to what American culture has grown to accept.
Brittney Cooper, Ph.D., assistant professor of women’s and gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University, says that as a society, normalizing violence needs to stop. “We really have to decide that violence is not love. Lots of people make the mistake of equating violence with love,” she says. “That goes for how we discipline our children and interact with lovers. There is nothing sexy about beating each other before [having sex]. Some couples would say it’s complicated. To me, that is not complicated.”
America has come to a place where unacceptable behavior goes unpunished and abuse against women is hardly a punishable act. In 2012 Emma Sulkowicz, a student at Columbia University, said she was anally raped by another student in her own dorm room. After being dismissed by police and a university disciplinary board, she decided to demonstrate and eventually received media attention. The student accused of the rape was cleared of all wrongdoing and eventually sued the school, claiming he was a “victim of harassment by another student, to devastating, long lasting results,” the suit states.
Sulkowicz was made out to be a liar and the accused was allowed to continue classes at Columbia, even after two other women claimed the assailant sexually assaulted them. Though Sulkowicz is not a Black woman, her case gives credence to the tolerance of violence against women and the normalization of violence against women, leaving men unchecked and heinous acts are rewarded.
According to a survey, “Denying Rape But Endorsing Forceful Intercourse: Exploring Differences Among Responders,” 1 in 3 college students would rape a woman if they knew there would be no consequences and no one would find out. The study also found that though men who admitted they would force a woman to have sex showed no outward display of hostility toward women, they did have aggressive sexual attitudes toward women.
According to a 2011 study released by the Violence Policy Center, a Black woman is more likely to be killed by “her spouse, an intimate acquaintance, or a family member than by a stranger.” The study said that 52 percent of the victims were wives, exes or girlfriends of the killers.
Further, the study reports that Black women were at higher risk of falling victim to fatal crimes than white women. However, mainstream media would have America believe white women are far more victimized and in need of rescuing than others, contributing to ideas that Black women are less valuable and not in need of protection.
Cooper suggested that society’s general perspective about Black women is toxic and limiting. For centuries, Black women have been unfairly burdened with carrying the weight of the world and expected to support the advancement of others. She says that Black women’s bodies are “lying in the gap” between America’s promises of freedom and equality while the collective is constantly being victimized and marginalized.
“People say we are the backbone of society. That means people rely on us for them to move forward, a pillar for their advancement. And to me that is a stationary position. I want us to imagine a post-backbone position. It’s too heavy a load,” Cooper says.
The legacy of enslavement has stained the fabric of American culture and has harvested a blatant disregard of Black women as human beings. Black women were raped for sport, forced to breed workers, forced to entertain houseguests, forced to raise other people’s children and thrown away after plantation owners had no more use for them. One-hundred and fifty years later, Black women have come so far, yet the core of their suggested value somehow remains.
“The bodies of Black women have been commodified and objectified,” writer Sikivu Hutchinson explains. “Black women have never been conferred with human rights and value in terms of being female and not being placed in the same sphere of white women.”
In her experience working with young people, Hutchinson finds that normalization of violence against women begins very early, citing the use of terms such as “bitches,” “hoes” and “ratchet.” Words like these, along with pornography and images of men using violence or committing violent sexual acts against women, become a part of what is acceptable among youth.
“There is a certain permissiveness given to young men, especially when it comes to young women,” Hutchinson says. “All of those factors contribute to young men feeling like they have license and permission to do what they want.”
Despite the advancements Black women have made and continue to make, they rank low on the totem pole of value in the greater scheme of things. Their struggles are perpetually ignored, their tragic stories easily forgotten and they are regularly made out to be somebody’s property. The entertainment industry is guilty of perpetuating vile ideas that condone inhumane behavior against women and systems are set up to protect those who act violently. A great overhaul of what is acceptable is in order so that society understands Black women’s lives matter, too.