If we want to get a broader sense of the problem here, we have to be able to critique both race and gender conventions and stereotypes, and usually class, too. We must consider implicit and explicit biases against black women. Their interactions with the police may be different from those of white women and, in some ways, black men as well.
All black people would be safer with police reforms that reduce their interactions with law enforcement in public and at home. Black women are more likely than black men to engage with police officers when they knock on doors making welfare or mental health checks. These seemingly benign nonemergency calls can put them at risk.
In 2017, Texas enacted the Sandra Bland Act, named for a woman who died. A key provision is mandatory de-escalation training for police officers. But it’s unclear whether the officer who killed Atatiana Jefferson underwent such training; his behavior on the night of her death suggests that neither he nor his partner followed police protocol.
So simply altering police training won’t protect black women. We must create penalties and disincentives around the use of excessive force. It’s a damning indictment of a broken system that the Sandra Bland Act, which ostensibly sought to prevent future deaths, didn’t seem to have any impact in Ms. Jefferson’s case.
Ms. Jefferson’s mother was too sick to attend her daughter’s funeral. In a letter that was read aloud, she wrote, “You often said you were going to change the world.” If her senseless killing catalyzes reforms that ensure policing is about protection and service, rather than fear and punishment, then she will have changed the world.