Dymond Milburn is in dispute with more than the police force of Galveston, Texas. On Wednesday, The Houston Press reported an incident, two years earlier, involving Dymond, African American, 12 at the time, in front of her family home: “a blue van drove up and three men jumped out rushing toward her. One of them grabbed her saying, `You’re a prostitute. You’re coming with me.’ Dymond grabbed onto a tree and started screaming, `Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.’ One of the men covered her mouth. Two of the men beat her about the face and throat. As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.” Three weeks later, the police came to Dymond’s school, where Dymond is an honors student, and arrested her for assaulting a public servant.
On Thursday, Radley Balko picked up on the story, and then it took off into the blogosphere. Later, Balko updated his account: “Here’s what isn’t in dispute: Milburn was wrongly targeted during a prostitution raid. The police were looking for white prostitutes. Milburn is black. She was apprehended by plain-clothes narcotics officers who emerged from a van as she stood outside her home. She resisted. The police have acknowledged they targeted the wrong house. Three weeks later, Milburn was arrested at her school, in front of her classmates, for `assaulting a public official.’ At some point, her father was arrested on a similar charge. The judge declared a mistrial on the first day of Milburn’s trial. According to Vogel [the Houston Press reporter], she’s scheduled to be tried again in February.”
J.D. Tucille, writing in response, concluded: “So the Galveston Police Department’s position is that it’s a criminal act for a little girl to resist being dragged into a van by strange men? If that’s the lesson the police want to send to the community, then it’s nothing more than an association of thugs intolerant of the slightest challenge to its authority. It’s certainly not an agency for preserving the peace and defending the rights of local residents. A police department like that shouldn’t just be sued; it should be disbanded.”
We already heard, the week that Dymond Milburn `became news’, that sex workers in the United States face police violence, and if you didn’t already know that African American women and girls face police violence and, even more, police sanctioned violence, A.C. Thompson’s “Katrina’s Hidden Race War” and Rebecca Solnit’s “The Grinning Skull: The Homicides You Didn’t Hear About in Hurricane Katrina” would remind you. Brent Staples has seen “Without Sanctuary”, an exhibition that exposes U.S. lynching cultural histories, and knows that “lynching … was a method of social control”. A Black girl in Texas, a state notorious for the quantity and quality of lynchings, hung to a tree for safety and freedom. Welcome to the 21st century.
White supremacist violence against Black people, Black communities, Black knowledge and culture, is not new. State violence against Black girls is not new. State use of sex and sexuality – what were you doing on that street or what were you doing out at that late hour – to justify violence against women, and in particular against Black women, is not new and is not news.
The occlusion of sexual violence that lies at the heart of all power relationships and hierarchies is also not new and never makes the news. Writing about the case of Brian Gene Nichols, accused and convicted to many life sentences without parole, for having beaten a courthouse sheriff’s deputy, and having killed a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff’s deputy, and an off-duty federal officer, Marie Tesler finds that what is continually scanted, or not reported at all, is that Nichol’s initial charge was one of sexual assault, and it’s one that proved exceedingly difficult for a jury to take seriously. When it comes to sexual violence, the jury is always out. For Tesler, “Domestic violence and sexual violence are the DNA of violence throughout society. It’s where violence begins.”
What if the story involved the DRC, rather than Texas, and the Black girl was Clara, instead of Dymond: “”That night I was coming back from my sister’s home when I was accosted by men in civilian clothes in a jeep with blacked-out windows at about 8pm. They showed me police badges,” she said. The men told Clara she was not allowed to be outside in the night and she climbed into their car expecting to be driven home to her parents. But the men drove her to the Ngaba district of Kinshasa where they ordered her to pay a 70 000 CDF ($120) fine. “I told them: ‘I am young. I do not have that kind of money.’ But they took the 1 500 CDF (about $3) that I had on me and my gold chain as money for transport,” she said. “Then they took me to a dark place. As two men raped me, the driver watched,” she said, adding that the men “gave me a lot of pain. I still have pain”.” What’s the distance between men who are police and men who claim to be police, between men who rape and men who `merely’ beat and injure, between fines and arrests, between Kinshasa and Galveston or Atlanta or New Orleans or wherever you are at this moment? The distance is important, and so is the shared space.
As more men commit more rape and sexual violence more intensely and furiously in one part of a country, others begin to do so in another. Call it liquidity. The cleansing niceties of geopolitical distance, rural – metropolitan or periphery – capital or dangerous – safe or bare life – my life, are worse than alibis. From the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the democratic United States of America, sexual violence, and even more the refusal by State and civil society to acknowledge and address sexual violence, `inspires’ rampage, and then the world expresses shock and horror, again, at the brutes and savages, once more. Pain is the currency, it is a quantity: “they gave me a lot of pain.” Pain is the trace, it is a quality: “I still have pain.” In patriarchy, pain has ever been the gift women are meant to receive. In global capital, women’s pain, in particular the pain of Black women, in particular the police sanctioned pain of Black women, is identity. Because the pain is identical and cannot be in dispute, no distance divides Dymond from Clara. Where is the State that acknowledges their pain and does more than acknowledge? Where are the reparations? Where is the place where justice, rather than violence, begins?
Dan Moshenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org