December 05, 2013
By Starla Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
Oriana Farrell, 39, was pulled over for speeding but the encounter almost turned deadly on a highway near Taos, New Mexico. A state trooper broke her rear window with a baton. Another trooper fired as the panicked Memphis mother drove away from him. Her five children, ages 6 to 18, were in the van.
Police dash cameras recorded the encounter that caused shock and anger when made public. White mothers and their children are not handled so brutally for minor traffic violations, advocates and analysts told The Final Call.
“A uniformed officer can shoot three bullets at my van and be considered to be ‘doing his job’, but my doing what I can to get my own children away from such a terrifying individual has been termed ‘child abuse’ and ‘endangerment,’ according to New Mexico law,” said Ms. Farrell.
Her sentiments were contained in a piece published by The Taos News and shortly after her arrest.
“As a single, African-American mother of five in this country, things are tough enough I should not have to endure harassment at the hands of someone who has been hired to protect the citizens of this land over an alleged ‘speeding offense.’ No one should,” she said.
“I don’t think many of these people who perpetuate these wrongs against us even see us as victims. They see us with suspicion just as for years they’ve done with Black men,” Dr. E. Faye Williams of the National Congress of Black Women said.
“We have heard about the war on women for years and I agree there is a war, but think of how much greater that war is on Black women,” she added.
Overzealous state police?
New Mexico State police reportedly pulled Ms. Farrell over for driving 71 mph in a 55 mph zone on a highway.
Police say she argued about paying the ticket, leaving the scene before the trooper was finished.
Stopped a second time, footage shows a trooper pulling her out of her vehicle. The screams of children inside the van can be heard. The woman’s 14-year-old son approaches his mother and the officer. A brief scuffle between he and the officer ensues and the officer pulls out his Taser. The teen retreats into the van.
As Ms. Farrell drives off a final time, a different trooper fires three shots at the back of the van as it moves away from him.
There is a 10-minute chase before Ms. Farrell pulls to the front of a hotel. She and her son are arrested without further incident.
At Final Call presstime, state police were conducting an internal investigation. The troopers involved were still on the job and their names had not been released.
According to media reports, the Taos County District Attorney is not filing criminal charges against the officers.
Ms. Farrell appeared in court Nov. 19 charged with multiple counts including intentional abuse of a child, aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement officer and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Her son was charged with aggravated battery against a police officer.
Ms. Farrell’s trial is scheduled for April 21, 2014.
Inquiries by telephone and e-mail to 8th Judicial District Attorney Donald Gallegos went unanswered.
The Final Call was told by the office of attorney Alan Maestas, who is representing Ms. Farrell, that he was out of town. According to his office, the lawyer was not granting interviews or commenting on the case.
Heavy handed tactics, violent encounters with law enforcement and cases where Black women are beaten or killed show gender often means little in a society ingrained with White Supremacy, said activists. Black women aren’t seen as human beings, they added.
During civil rights protests police dogs, baton-wielding cops and fire hoses were mercilessly unleashed on Black women.
Ms. Farrell and others, like 19-year-old Renisha McBride of Detroit, are too often treated with suspicion, observed Dr. Williams.
Ms. McBride was shot in the face and killed in Dearborn Heights, Mich. She went to the home of Theodore Wafer seeking help after crashing her car. Mr. Wafer, who is White, reportedly told police he was afraid and the shotgun he was holding accidentally discharged. Days of protests and public outcry came before his arrest.
Though not a police involved shooting, it again shows how Blacks are seen as threats, said analysts.
“As a nation, culturally, Black people are still perceived largely through a lens of fear. That lens of fear remains, regardless of the gender of the person that people see,” said Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, writer, radio host and president and CEO of Incite Unlimited.
There is a long U.S. history of Black women not being seen as women, she explained, citing the famous “Ain’t I A Woman,” speech by abolitionist and freedom fighter Sojourner Truth in 1851 as an example. The “mantle of femininity” is not bestowed on Black women while racism and America’s gun culture feed unjustified fear, said Dr. Jones-DeWeever, a former executive director of the National Council of Negro Women.
Based on U.S. history, gender in and of itself is “negligible” when it comes to the danger of being Black in White America, attorney, author and radio host Dr. Ava Muhammad said.
The American psyche tolerates the murder of Black males so it has become safer and easier to openly kill Black females, said Dr. Muhammad, who is also national spokesperson for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
“This is one of the reasons there is an all-out effort in media and culture to completely destroy any respect for Black females by presenting the Black female as a sexually charged, immoral creature who is so lacking in self-respect that when she is killed there is a ‘so what’ posture not only in the White community but in the Black community as well,” she said.
According to a 2012 report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, every 36 hours a Black man, woman or child is killed by a police officer, security guard or self-appointed law enforcer.
Of the 120 Black people killed between January 1 and June 30, 2012, five were Black women.
“Two were accused ‘car thieves,’ two were ‘innocent bystanders’ and one was beaten and smothered by police because they treated her emotional agitation as if it were a crime that had to be violently suppressed,” said the report.
Earlier this year in Springfield, Ill., police used a Taser on Lucinda White, who was 8 months pregnant, after a minor traffic accident in a parking lot.
According to reports, Ms. White initially called police to report the fender bender. She and her boyfriend were arrested. No charges were filed against the officers.
The city of Chicago awarded $4.5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit with the family of Rekia Boyd, 22, a bystander who was shot in the head and killed by police detective Dante Servin on March 21, 2012. He claimed self-defense. Ms. Boyd was unarmed.
At Final Call presstime, the Chicago Tribune reported Cook County prosecutors were charging Det. Servin with manslaughter. He has been on administrative duty since the shooting, continuing to receive a $87,000 per year salary, said the Tribune.
In Los Angeles, assault charges were filed against a White female police officer seen on video repeatedly kicking Alesia Thomas in the stomach and genitals. The Black women was handcuffed and in leg restraints. She lost consciousness and later died. Ms. Thomas, 35, reportedly had a history of mental illness and battled drug addiction.
Black women are just as likely as Black men to be perceived as threats and violent, as irrational as the thought may be, added Dr. Jones-DeWeever. “We need to understand that frankly we have a linked fate with our men as it relates to that issue,” she said.
When video was released of Ms. Farrell and police, debates arose. Many were highly critical of Ms. Farrell and blamed her as well as police. After Renisha McBride was gunned down, reports began surfacing about her blood alcohol level and traces of marijuana reportedly found in her system. It is unclear whether or not her shooter was tested for drugs or alcohol.
“If Renisha were drunk as Cootie Brown and high as a kite, she did not deserve to be killed. Why didn’t the ‘54-year-old homeowner’ call 911 and tell them there was a drunken woman on his porch? Why did he shoot?” asked Dr. Julianne Malveaux in a commentary titled, “Who will defend Black women?”
The activist and economist pointed out parallels between the McBride case, the death of teen Trayvon Martin and the propensity to blame victims.
Dr. Jones-DeWeever spoke of a unifying thread of authorities and public blaming of victims, including Miriam Carey. The 34-year-old Connecticut woman was shot and killed in Washington, D.C., Oct. 3 after ramming her car into barriers near the White House. Her one-year-old daughter was in the vehicle but was unharmed.
“Her car was shot into with her baby in the backseat … The knee-jerk reaction is not to see them as victims but see them as deserving perpetrators in some way and in some way responsible for their own death,” said Dr. Jones-DeWeever. There were reports Ms. Carey may have suffered from post-partum depression. Ms. Carey’s sister, a former police officer, questioned whether the situation could have been handled differently.
“There has been little to no discussion of the possibility of post-partum depression as if that’s something that can only happen to White women,” Dr. Jones-DeWeever noted.
She added, “I really would find it hard to believe that in a similar circumstance, particularly with the Renisha McBride case, if that was a blue-eyed, blond hair White woman under this very same circumstance, if those things had happened to her, I really find it hard to believe that the press would have been as sympathetic towards the shooter or that the police might have been so protective of the shooter’s identity.”
Police also have alternatives to deadly force, analysts told The Final Call.
Dr. Muhammad pointed out how Paul Anthony Ciancia, a 23-year-old White man who shot and killed a TSA agent and wounded two others at LAX Airport in early November, was wounded by police, but taken alive into custody.
“We have to begin in our community to stand up for one another, to respect one another, love one another and then to insist that people do it. We have to treat each other right in our own community and not jump to question our motive when there is a problem or something happens and we’re injured,” said Dr. Williams.
“We do have the power to stop some of these things we just don’t always exercise the unity we need to exercise in order to be treated better in this society.”
She urged Black women who are doing well to help those who are suffering injustices.
Dr. Muhammad said there is a crisis in the Black community.
No people on earth would tolerate this, with any knowledge of self, any comprehension with the significance of this type of assault on their women and children, she argued.
“We do not want to acknowledge that the White man is our natural enemy. That’s what’s at the root of all this,” said Dr. Muhammad.