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The Death Of Tanisha Anderson: State Violence, Anti-Blackness and Ableism

Cleveland.com and newsnet5 reported that a 37 year old Black woman, Tanisha Anderson (photo below is from their story) was murdered by the police (head slammed to the ground and other physical violence). Tanisha apparently had diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia, and needed care, not extrajudicial execution. State violence is not something that Black women are spared from (which I explained in The Erasure Of Black Women’s Experiences As Victims Of State Violence Is Unacceptable). Further, she is not the first Black person with physical or mental health issues that has been executed in the last few months. Eric Garner (asthma, could not breathe in illegal chokehold) and Ezell Ford/KajiemePowell (mental health issues) are among those killed by the police.

When Black bodies are viewed as both disposable (Epistemic Violence, Erasure and The Value Of Black Life) and superhuman (On Blackness and Perceptions of Able-Bodied PrivilegeRacist Myths About Black People As Inherently Able-Bodied and Neurotypical), simultaneously, there’s denial of our full humanity, denial of pain we feel, denial of help we made need, and people’s unwillingness to try to figure out solutions to help and preserve our lives, versus ending them. Myths of Black “superhuman” strength and physical ability are ableist. Myths of Black “subhuman” intelligence and “inherent” violent disposition are also ableist (in addition to necessary for White supremacist lies about “superior” White intelligence to be juxtaposed to). Ableism, in this context, is significant in terms of examining anti-Blackness. This idea that we both “deserve” harm and also “cannot really” be harmed is ableism and anti-Blackness, especially so for Black people with physical and/or mental health issues. 

This complicates for Black women because while viewing women as “delicate” involves sexist framing, that framing still implies humanity. This framing operates on the notion that White womanhood is true womanhood. This is denied Black women; both womanhood and humanity themselves. She was murdered in a way that Black men are; not considered someone worth protecting in a way that White women are. Thus, understanding how misogynoir impacts State violence on Black women really matters. Acknowledging the reality of State violence on Black women’s lives—and not just as a derailing tactic for the times when we speak on intraracial gender violence—really matters. 

Her brother stated that she was "more of a danger to herself than others." This is the case with many mental health issues. However, because of the false notion that people with mental health issues are inherently violent, because of the lack of empathy (and it is socialized because of White supremacy) for Black bodies/lives (and it does not matter if token non-White officers are on police forces; again, structural violence can operate against Blackness even with individual non-White complicity; the origin/purpose of policing is enforcing anti-Blackness/protecting the State’s interests) and because of the specific way that Black women are dehumanized into objects who can’t feel pain/can’t be harmed/aren’t really women or human…her life is gone. A Black woman who needed help and was not under arrest is dead. Though individual circumstances differ when each killing like these occurs, the reality is they are not occurring in a bubble. There are no “isolated incidents” when it comes to Black bodies and the State. There never were. 

*updated after the fact; early reports spelled her name with an “e;” should be an “i.”