Invisible No More (Book Review)

Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea J. Ritchie

Author Andrea Ritchie was a co-author with Kimberle Crenshaw for the African American Policy Forum report Say Her Name which inspired the campaign #SayHerName to recognize black women and girls killed by police in America. Ritchie’s book Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color should be required reading, but is also traumatic to read about all the instances of violence perpetrated against women and girls of color by the police. Ritchie argues that “it is no longer tenable to approach issues of racial profiling, police violence and mass incarceration without taking gender into account.”

Photo Credit: Blood At The Root

Ritchie writes:

“Racial profiling studies analyzing the experiences of women of color separately from those of men of color conclude that there is an identical pattern of racial disparities in police stops for both men and women… The year before [Michael] Brown was killed, Black women in Ferguson were subjected to traffic stops more frequently than any other category of motorist. They also reported similar experiences of arrest and police violence as Black men.”

Ritchie goes on to explain:

“The history I learned in school rarely mentioned Indigenous women’s experiences of colonial violence, Black women’s encounters with slave patrols and Jim Crow policing, or immigrant women’s experiences with policing at and beyond the border. These stories must be searched out between the lines of a historical record in which men are the main protagonists on all sides of the equation. Indigenous and Black feminist historians have made significant inroads in undermining this framework, highlighting the instrumental role of state-sponsored violence, particularly sexual violence, against women and gender-nonconforming people through colonial genocide, chattel slavery, and the continuing enforcement of racially drawn boundaries of gender, sexuality, motherhood, and nation.”

Connecting Police Brutality to Mass Incarceration

Women of color today represent the quickest growing jail and prison populations. Ritchie writes:

“Expanding our focus to center women of color also forces us to move beyond false dichotomies of “good” and “bad” victims of police violence, “armed” and “unarmed.” The uncomfortable reality is that, in many cases, women killed by police were armed- rarely with a gun but often with a knife, scissors, or household objects like a hammer. A focus on police killings of unarmed people therefore excludes many women and racializes narratives that led to their deaths. Even when armed, even when resisting police, controlling narratives frame women of color as a much greater threat than white women under identical circumstances, and place a much greater threat than white women under identical circumstances, and place much lower value on Black, Native, Muslim, Latinx and immigrant women’s lives, thus giving officers to use much greater and more brutal and lethal force.”

Along with the movement for Black Lives’ platform, we must push beyond this narrative of “good” and “bad” victims and the politics of respectability, and simply see police violence as unacceptable in all forms.

“Obvious parallels exist among the profiling associated with the war on drugs; broken windows and “gang” policing, and the fear-mongering and targeting of people who are perceived to embody disorder; immigration enforcement and its focus on excluding and removing an imagined other; and the war on terror.”

School to Prison Pipeline

When a school has contact with an SRO (school resource officer) the rate at which students are placed into the criminal justice system for lower level crimes doubles. Also, the focus on the “School to Prison Pipeline” has been significantly focused on boys and men in school- but today Black girls make up about 33 percent of girls arrested on school grounds, and only make up 16% of the population. Ritchie also documents a gross amount of underage girls who are touched or assaulted by police.

Criminalization of the LGBTQI Community, Mothers and Sex Workers

Prostitution charges are much more common when the person charged is either a woman or gender nonconforming person of color, or LGBTQI. Additionally, motherhood is policed harsher for women of color- in the majority of cases what is labeled as neglect should really be defined as poverty. Also, police brutality toward women of color does not change when the woman is pregnant, and is sometimes part of the reason for the brutality.

Additionally, “police violence takes places disproportionately, and with alarming frequency, in the context of responses to domestic and sexual violence,” and “ responses to family, interpersonal, and homophobic and transphobic violence are frequent sites of police violence against LGBTQ people.” The organization Survived and Punished advocates for the end to the criminalization of domestic violence survivors.

Throughout the book Ritchie references a resource produced in 2005 by Angela Davis and colleagues: INCITE! Organizer’s Tool Kit on Law Enforcement Violence.


Ritchie concludes the book speaking about the Movement for Black Lives platform, which

“calls for an end to racialized gender policing and police abuse of trans and gender nonconforming people, accountability for and prevention of police sexual violence, and an end to the feeds, fines, and bail that keep women in police custody, there to be assaulted or die of racially motivated neglect. It urges decriminalization of drug and prostitution offenses- two of the top pathways to policing, criminalization, and prison for Black women of color- and demands reparations for those who have been targets of the war on drugs and the enforcement of antiprostitution laws. Perhaps most importantly, the platform calls for ‘investment in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations.’”

“Today, I understand policing as inherently violent and beyond any state of repair. The reality of policing in the United States is much bigger than a few rotten apples. Just as the historical roots of the institution are rotten, so is the fruit that it bears in the United States and across the globe. Police are, and always have been, intermediaries and tools for the wealthy elites, serving the interests of property owners over those of marginalized people,” Charlene A. Carruthers, the national director for the Black Youth Project 100 concluded in the Afterword of the book.

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© Copyright 2018 Annie Windholz

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe —

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