Erica Garner (Credit: Getty/Andrew Burton)
The sting of the premature death of 27-year-old Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, is still fresh.
On Christmas Eve, Erica Garner suffered a massive heart attack which caused extensive brain damage. She died on Dec. 30. This latest loss emphasizes something we have known: Black women are dying from the trauma of police violence and this issue must be grappled with before more die.
When I heard the news of Erica Garner’s heart attack, a wave of familiar shock and pain ran through me. I immediately recognized the correlation between her heart attack and her father’s death because I had seen it before.
As an anthropologist who studies the impact of police violence on black communities in Brazil and the United States, I was familiar with many stories like Erica’s. My research examines the ways that police violence kills black women slowly through trauma, pain and loss.
Some may find this idea startling. Let me explain.
Trauma, pain and loss
In the wake of the deaths of black people at the hands of the state — from the police to the prison system — the living are often weighted with a sadness that is too heavy to bear, and in the weeks and months following the initial death of a loved one, they become sick and many die prematurely.
When we think of police lethality, we typically consider the immediate body count: The people that die from bullets and baton blows. The death toll gives the impression that black men are the disproportionate victims of police killings. But these numbers do not reveal the slow death that black women experience. The long-range trauma police brutality causes can be as deadly as a bullet. The pain of loss kills with heart attacks, strokes, depression and even anemia.
This is not to say that black women do not also die from the immediate physical effects of police abuse. The work of researchers like Andrea Ritchie and Kimberle Crenshaw, and black women’s organizations like Assata’s Daughters and Let Us Breathe Collective clearly demonstrate that they do. But in addition to working tirelessly to draw attention to the immediate ways that black women are killed and abused by the police, it is also important to consider what happens to black women in the weeks and years after lethal police encounters.
To be sure, black men also suffer from the trauma and pain of brutal policing. But I believe that the people most affected by the sequelae, the fallout of state violence, are black women, particularly black mothers. This is true beyond the United States.
Mothers and grandmothers
It happens in Brazil.
Consider the case of Dona Iraci, the 45-year-old grandmother who died of a heart attack when the police in Salvador, Bahia, raided her home looking for her grandson in 2002. Anthropologist Keisha-Khan Perry chronicles this story in her research on black land rights struggles.
There is also the story of Joselita de …read more