“I stand here before you as an angry black woman,” said Breea Willingham, in the William F. Walsh Science Center amphitheater of Saint Bonaventure University Friday.
“What’s happening today is not something that just happened,” said Willingham, referring to the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and to the deaths of other black people at the hands of law enforcement.
Scanning a room with no empty seats, with rows of people standing at the back or sitting on the floor, she stressed, “This is something that has been happening since African Americans first stepped foot on American soil.”
Willingham, who holds a doctorate in American Studies from the University at Buffalo – SUNY, returned to Saint Bonaventure to present her lecture, “Race, Crime and the American Injustice System.”
Willingham, who taught at the university from 2005 until 2011, said she heard stories about other black women brutalized by police and thought, “I could easily be one of them.”
“My Ph.D. doesn’t protect me from being shot by a cop. It doesn’t protect me from being raped by a cop. It doesn’t protect me from being kicked in the groin or choked by a cop. Because I’m still a black woman,” Willingham said.
Willingham named 51 black women and girls who had suffered at the hands of police but who did not receive the same media attention as black men. Unlike these other 51 black women and girls, Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in Texas, received national attention because of #SayHerName, a movement to give black women brutalized by police equal media attention.
“#SayHerName came about because black women are also being lynched by police, but typically the killings of black women are overshadowed by those of black men,” Willingham said.
“When I say lynching, I am referring to the systematic killing of black men and women at the hands of the police,” Willingham said. “We don’t have the tree. We have the cop and his gun, and a black man or woman lying in the street.”
Halfway through the talk, Willingham opened the discussion up to audience members.
One student from New York City shared his police encounter story. Walking home alone one night, a policeman stopped and frisked him.
“He put a gun to my head for no reason… I thought I was going to die that night,” he said.
“You say ‘for no reason,’ but you know what the reason is, right?” Willingham asked.
“Cuz I’m black,” he replied.
Willingham criticized the #AllLivesMatter movement, a hashtag on Twitter that came about as a response to the movement #BlackLivesMatter. #BlackLivesMatter, popularized by demonstrators at police brutality protests, aims to be a source of “information about issues impacting Black people,” according to the Facebook page.
Alternatively, according to Willingham, white people use #AllLivesMatter.
“Of course all lives matter. But black lives matter too,” said Willingham. “We’re saying that our lives matter too and the system has to recognize that.”
“When you say all lives matter, that is you exercising your white privilege. You have blinders on,” Willingham said.
“Social justice… is not just a ‘black thing,’” Willingham added. “For this fight to be won, white people need to join the fight too. Take off your blinders.”