She was dragged, tossed, handcuffed, and, she says, repeatedly called a "bitch," according to news reports. In her own words, she was "brutally abused." At the time of the incident, Venus Green was also 87 years old.
Recently, at age 90, Mrs. Green received an out-of-court settlement for her troubles from Baltimore City for $95,000. The settlement for the indignity is not the point of this commentary; rather, it is the repetition of such indignities and violence on the bodies of people of African descent, and Africana women in particular — not just by people of other ethnic groups but also by members of our own communities.
In "Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black women in America," Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor of political science at Tulane University, laments the realities facing African-American women. For instance, she explores how Africana women make sense of their often warped realities. She asks: How do we set ourselves upright in what she refers to as the "crooked places" — the larger society, our communities, our places of worship, our homes? She states, "Sometimes black women can conquer negative myths, sometimes they are defeated, and sometimes they choose not to fight. Whatever the outcome, we can better understand sisters as citizens when we appreciate the crooked room in which they struggle to stand upright."
In the case of Mrs. Green, she chose the path of fighting back both within her home, where she was attacked; and in the community at large by suing the Baltimore Police Department. That she chose to fight would come as no surprise to Sheri Parks, associate professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. In fact, she would probably view Mrs. Green as a "Fierce Angel," the title of her book and the phrase she uses to describe an African-American woman who is almost impossibly strong and selfless. According to Ms. Parks, "Every day, Black women pick up a load that is heavy and complicated. The role is overwhelming — it calls for incredible levels of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual energy, combined with a selflessness that is truly superhuman and wildly unrealistic."
Without a doubt, Mrs. Green fulfilled Ms. Parks' fierce angel criteria. She was strong for herself in the face of what she perceived as imminent danger. According to news reports, the police officers who came to her home had no search warrants. Yet, after she requested that they allow ambulance attendants to treat her grandson for wounds he allegedly received in a convenience store shooting, she was dragged, tossed, verbally maligned and handcuffed because she desired compassion for her grandson, and her rights as a citizen.
It appears that in the spaces of the crooked rooms, innocence is not presumed; and rights, more often than not, are for others. City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young voted against the settlement for Mrs. Green because, according to news reports, he was "tired of the police department bleeding money." What Mr. Young may not realize is that the outward flow of money from the Police Department is only a symptom. The settlement is only a Band-Aid for a festering problem or problems in the city, and some might say the country in general. Mrs. Green is only a messenger.
Perhaps we should consider the following questions: Are we willing to determine the source of the problem(s)? Most importantly, are we willing to correct the problem(s)? Or are we comfortable watching and experiencing violence and injustice in African-American communities, and other communities in America, because we are afraid to examine and change the practices and policies that have brought us to this point?
While Ms. Harris-Perry eloquently discusses the crooked room in relation to African-American women, I argue that regardless of our race, ethnicity, age, gender, or sexual orientation, we are all going to continue to struggle to set ourselves straight in what many believe are crooked societal spaces — unless we decide to enact practices and policies that benefit all in this dynamic and innovative country.
Heather E. Harris is an associate professor of business communication at Stevenson University. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.