The Price of Our Blood: Why Ferguson Is a Reproductive Justice Issue


Read more of our coverage related to recent events in Ferguson here.

The events that have unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, in recent weeks have revealed many tragedies, among them the fact that the death of so many youth of color in this country is still debatable in its status as a vaunted “feminist issue.” But it is, and the expansive definition of reproductive justice, which reaches into the universe of conditions necessary to create and sustain life, shows us how.

As RH Reality Check Senior Legal Analyst Imani Gandy put it so well in a recent tweet:

The resonance of the phrase “my body, my choice” owes much to its essential simplicity. But that same simplicity leaves out a great deal. A number of writers, like Dani McClain, Hannah Giorgis, Tara Culp-Ressler, and Emma Akpan, have written about a much broader idea, whose standard has been borne mostly by women of color for the last 20 years: The death of Michael Brown, and the systematic terror it induces, is a reproductive justice issue.

Put another way, there can be no reproductive justice for all until the state-sanctioned murder of Black youth in this country is addressed.

Bodily control neither begins nor ends with reproductive health care—that was only ever one battleground, albeit an important one. When one’s choice of whether or not to have a child is coerced by a terror inflicted on you and others like you, one’s reproductive rights are also being trampled upon. The word “terror” is not hyperbole as Hannah Giorgis revealed when she wrote of her reaction to Brown’s murder:

When I heard Sunday night that 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by police in Ferguson, Missouri, my heart sank. My skin pulled tight around my hands, my stomach churned itself into knots. My mind raced, visions of my brothers’ faces collaged into the painfully familiar sight of yet another innocent Black boy breathing — and bleeding — for the last time.

She shares this waking nightmare with countless other Black mothers who live in fear of their children falling to the vengeful divinity of the state. “Any force that systematically and unapologetically turns unconsenting Black wombs into graveyards,” she says, “is a reproductive justice issue.”

For one’s children to be random, unwitting blood sacrifices to the prejudice of faceless others is not freedom. To have reproductive freedom means, among many other things, that your choice to raise a family will not be revenged upon by collectivized prejudice wielding batons and handguns.

Children of Color as Crisis

A theme of the protests in Ferguson has been the fact that our much-cherished rights evaporated at just the moment when they were most needed.

Michael Brown’s right to due process was hardly in evidence. And for the protesters, much the same was true: Their First Amendment rights were stripped, as were those of many of the journalists trying to cover the historic events as they unfolded. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments fluttered away. Suddenly, even police regulations about providing names and badge numbers no longer applied. On and on, rights were butchered in the charnel house of Ferguson’s streets.

But equally glaring and shocking was the fact that Michael Brown’s mother was denied her right to a family she could raise in safety.

Far from being a “separate issue,” as some would like to imagine, what happened to Michael Brown is as much a profound indictment of our lack of reproductive justice as it is our lack of racial and economic justice.

If reproductive choice is about deciding whether or not one can have a family, or how large one wants her family to be, then structural violence imposed on a community is a constraint upon that freedom. If a woman like Marissa Alexander, for instance, cannot defend her own life and her children from an abusive parent, that too is a violation of reproductive freedom.

The issue is not only the tragic loss of a child, or an unjustly incarcerated mother. It’s the fact that for the entire Black community in our society, there is a calculus to be made about one’s children that’s not prevalent among whites. It’s the knowledge that your child might be stolen away by the very people who should be protecting him or her, and the knowledge that they will die a second death as a bloodthirsty press seeks to retroactively justify the atrocity by holding up their whole life for scrutiny and debate, as if anything revealed by such remorseless vulture-picking could ever excuse such a killing.

It is here where the question of “Whose lives are valued?” enters into the picture, for how cheap must a life be if millions of onlookers can think that stolen cigars justify a murder? Can we have reproductive justice if the children of some are considered inherently less valuable by several orders of magnitude? If the life of a child or a young man or woman is so cheap that misunderstandings, small mistakes, or false accusations justify their deaths, what can then be said about the rights they enjoyed in life and how valuable they turned out to be?

For First Nations and Native American peoples this, too, is a pressing question. The disproportionate murders of their children, particularly young women, is an appalling atrocity that has only unfolded quietly because such lives are undervalued. Writing about the death of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl whose body was found in a river, Dr. Sarah Hunt, a researcher on violence against Indigenous people, concluded her piece by saying, “Treating our deaths as unremarkable is a form of violence that needs to stop along with the murders themselves. Taking steps to end the violence now is the only route to justice.”

A similar debauching occurs with the lives of Latino/a children in this country, especially immigrants. They are treated by the rest of society as a virus infecting the state, and their deaths—whether in the United States or in the countries to which they may be deported—are treated as both seemly and unremarkable. Amid all this violence and chaos, Latina mothers are condemned as being threats themselves for bearing these children—their decision to have a family, and any decision they make about saving that family (such as making the unarguably difficult choice to send your child over the border alone), are subject to a dehumanizing scorn in the press.

The great moral crime is that the deaths of all these people are treated as the seemly garnish to an otherwise just and progressive world.

It’s why Renisha McBride was killed—her part in the white suburban slasher drama that depicts all Black people as inherently dangerous was decided for her long before she staggered up to Theodore Wafer’s front door. It’s why Islan Nettles’ murder has not been properly investigated, despite the fact that it occurred next to a police station. It’s why Trayvon Martin’s death ignited controversy rather than universal condemnation. It’s why CeCe MacDonald went to prison for defending herself against a man who wanted her to pay with her life for the crime of her very existence. It’s why far too many other men and women have been slain.

The reproductive justice perspective is a simple one: All lives must be valued as equal. There can be no reproductive justice without racial justice. This means that the families of people of color must be seen as having equal value. It means that a child’s real or perceived imperfections should never be seen as an excuse for murder. And it means that the decisions of Black, Latino/a, or Native people to have children should not be constructed as a crisis. Rather, we should see the equal and just care of these children as a shared responsibility—a challenge, yes, but no more a challenge than raising one’s own family should be.

Children of color are not a crisis.

A Militarized Public

Much has been made of the militarization of the police in this country, and that must be addressed without delay. But we are making a tremendous mistake if we believe that taking the police’s tanks and assault rifles away will make things better.

The militarization of the mind is what we must fight with vigor. Police have merely clad themselves in the armor that fits their timeless pretensions. They were always a paramilitary force in word and deed—now they simply have the means to clothe themselves like it.

But this militant mind was never limited to the police. It leads to the terrifying fantasies that George Zimmerman and Theodore Wafer acted out when they committed their murders. It has made monsters of people’s children; it has cut a swathe through people’s families. It’s the same violent reflex that has taken the lives of countless transgender women of color, people whose very right to exist is being fought for on the furthest frontier of reproductive justice politics.

The militarized mind dehumanizes, and then justifies the treatment that accrues to the inhuman.

It is easy to see a logical extension between angry Facebook users posting memes about “welfare cheats” and “anchor babies” and those who try to justify the slaughter of a young person of color. You see the broad arc here: Dehumanize, then kill, then slay their memory. The kids are cast as spongers, or invading immigrants who will rape and kill, or talentless gang-bangers—all of whom are “stealing” hardworking (white) Americans’ money while constituting an existential threat to the nation as a whole. Inevitably, someone is killed, and just as inevitably people try to justify the death.

Armies of children are reduced to caricatures.

The real question is, how is this not about reproductive justice? How could anyone think otherwise?

The answer lies in the same dehumanization that leads to this weeping list of crimes, and it infects feminism as well. Ferguson is a moment for all of us who call ourselves feminists to refuse the seductions of racism; we must refuse to fail. It’s also a moment for all of us non-Black people of color to recognize that although we cannot lay total claim to the issue of police violence visited on Black children and Black parents, we are inextricably bound up in all of this and cannot afford to be silent.

There’s a movement in there somewhere. And we would all do well to answer its call at last.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Katherine Cross please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • AbdullahtheButcher

    Here’s what Ms. Cross doesn’t get: she claims a right for a mother to raise her children in safety. Which is dependent upon the police maintaining peace and order and enforcing the laws.

    There’s plenty of evidence right now showing that the death of Mike Brown (and Trayvon Martin) was much more complex than simply White cop executes unarmed black kid. Some of that evidence points to Brown charging the cop, making the cop believe that his life was in danger.

    Bashing the cops over this is a really truly bad idea. If she really wants a right to raise a family in safety, she needs to understand the ramifications of attacking the police, and the likely outcome that they’ll check out and she’ll have “safety” basically determined by the benevolence of urban gangs.

    • edkosky

      Ms. Cross also needs a little reality check as to the effect of abortion on the black community: “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.” A niece of Dr. King started this organization, but of course it is completely overlooked, as its philosophy in no way fits in with the dominant myths that rule the legacy media.http://blackgenocide.org/home.html

      • fiona64

        Alveda King is trading on her late uncle’s name to promote a whole bunch of stuff that he *didn’t* support.

      • Arekushieru

        Ed, you are either stating that black women are more ‘stupid’ than their white counterparts OR you are saying that black women don’t deserve the same rights as white women OR you are saying that black women who CHOOSE to have abortions are performing genocide on their own race. Hmm, now, who, I wonder, does that make the racist? Not Pro-CHOICE.

        • prolifemama

          Planned Parenthood, founded by a racist, targets minorities by building abortion facilities in their communities to meet the “high need” for abortion “services.”
          Non-Politically Correct Translation: There need to be less babies of color born, so let’s go where these babies are being made, and provide the “solution” to this “problem.” Shades of Hitler’s Jewish “solution”…

          • Arekushieru

            I see. You ignore comments that prove you wrong and only reply to the ones where you can use the same refuted talking points over and over, again. Seriously, way to prove that our side is RIGHT. After all, if you simply don’t want to deal with the person, rather than just avoid the heated conversations that were going on before, why would you talk to that very same person using the very exact same erroneous claims you made, before, while ignoring the other comments on this very same blog that prove you wrong?

            The United States was founded by racists. Is that why you are a racist? No? Then it’s irrelevant whether or not Planned Parenthood was founded by a racist.

            In either case, by also ignoring my lead-in statement in that very same post, you have proven that you are far more of a raging racist than Margaret Sanger could EVER have been. Because, either you want to deny black women the same rights as everyone else, you think black women are ‘stupider’ than their white counterparts OR you think black women are committing genocide against other black people. All of which is very racist.

            And this AFTER enacting laws that make them dependent on organizations that provide services to low-income people because the Pro-’Life’ politicos saw ‘fit’ to deny funding to social programs that would have helped them to DECREASE the rates of unwanted pregnancies AND keep very much WANTED pregnancies.

            See, you people like to talk the talk of responsibility, but I’ve never ONCE seen you actually WALK it. For example, in this case specifically, use racist laws (meaning those that target non-existent so-called ‘welfare queens’) to restrict black women accessing services in the same way afforded their WHITE counterparts, then blame the people who come to fill the GAP in services for spreading racism. Hypocrites.

            Whereas Margaret SANGER abhorred Hitler and other people like you, was ACTUALLY anti-abortion (of whom Planned Parenthood is still very much a representative because their abortion services – and, yes, they ARE fucking services – comprise only three percent of their total services, the rest deal with WELLNESS checkups, contraception and cancer screenings, that, again, reduce the rates of unwanted pregnancies AND help black women keep very much wanted pregnancies) AND never ONCE allowed her white employees to treat fellow black employees as inferior.

            Besides, your theory that Planned Parenthood is situated primarily in predominantly black neighbourhoods has been thoroughly debunked, as well.

            Finally, again, Hitler was JUST as forced birth as you. In one of the comments to which I implicitly referred in the lead-in to THIS post, I EXPLAINED how Hitler denied personhood to Jews because he didn’t think they were deserving of rights, the same way YOU deny personhood to women because YOU don’t think OTHER women are deserving of rights. NOT that they denied personhood to Jews so they didn’t think they were deserving of rights just as WE do NOT deny personhood to fetuses so WE don’t think they’re deserving of rights. Oops.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Unless they’re forcibly dragging women into their clinics at gunpoint, your supposition is just so much BS. Why don’t you think that black women are smart enough to make their own reproductive choices?

          • fiona64

            You need to stop telling these bald-faced lies. Seriously.

            I wish you would be ashamed of yourself, but frankly I don’t think you’re intelligent enough to understand just why that is.

      • Dez

        Of course black women like me are too stupid to choose abortion if we weren’t brainwashed or ignorant right? There’s no way we could be informed and choose what’s best for us. Abortion happens to black women and not something we choose right? Idiot.

      • Shan

        Here, try this for a more enlightened perspective.

        http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/gpr/11/3/gpr110302.html

        “This much is true: In the United States, the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women. Antiabortion activists, including some African-American pastors, have been waging a campaign around this fact, falsely asserting that the disparity is the result of aggressive marketing
        by abortion providers to minority communities.

        “The Issues4Life Foundation, for example, is a faith-based organization that targets and works with African-American leaders toward achieving the goal of “zero African-American lives lost to abortion or biotechnology.” In April, Issues4Life wrote to the Congressional Black Caucus to denounce Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its “racist and eugenic goals.” The group blamed PPFA and abortion providers in general for the high abortion rate in the African-American community—deeming the situation the “Da[r]fur of America”—and called on Congress to withdraw federal family planning funds from all PPFA affiliates.

        “These activists are exploiting and distorting the facts to serve their antiabortion agenda. They ignore the fundamental reason women have
        abortions and the underlying problem of racial and ethnic disparities
        across an array of health indicators. The truth is that behind virtually
        every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. This applies to all
        women—black, white, Hispanic, Asian and Native American alike. Not
        surprisingly, the variation in abortion rates across racial and ethnic
        groups relates directly to the variation in the unintended pregnancy
        rates across those same groups.

        “Black women are not alone in having disproportionately high unintended pregnancy and abortion rates. The abortion rate among Hispanic women, for example, although not as high as the rate among black women, is double the rate among whites. Hispanics also have a higher level of unintended pregnancy than white women. Black women’s unintended pregnancy rates are the highest of all. These higher unintended pregnancy rates reflect the particular difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively over long periods of time. Moreover, these realities must be seen in a larger context in which significant racial and ethnic disparities persist for a wide range of health outcomes, from diabetes to heart disease to breast and cervical cancer to sexually transmitted infections (STI), including HIV.”

      • Jennifer Starr

        How insulting and racist of you.

      • lady_black

        Are you insinuating that black women are incapable of making the decision whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term? I find that very insulting, and I’m white. Your issue isn’t with race, your issue is with women. You do not truly believe either that women are capable of making decisions regarding their own bodies (regardless of skin color) or you don’t believe they “should” be making those decisions. Well, too bad. Women of color were aborting pregnancies forced upon them during slavery. White women were also aborting unwanted pregnancies and it was considered “women’s business” and unseemly for a gentleman to discuss. This is about control, and if you have to appropriate women of color to carry water for you, then so be it. Shame on you.

    • Arekushieru

      And there is evidence that has come in even LATER than that that refutes BOTH of those claims.

      Also. even IF this were true, the way these deaths were treated ALREADY shows bias between the way it was reported when a black man was killed versus a white man. It ALSO shows bias between the way a black man was perceived as opposed to a white man just before they were shot. Racial bias means respect for one group must achieve a higher standard compared to another group. It means that these women have every RIGHT to perceive a lack of safety within their community perpetrated by those who are supposed to serve and protect them. AND it means that this IS a reproductive justice issue. Oops.

    • A. T.

      Right. Cops need six bullets to take down unarmed kids. That’s REALLY complex. So is the racist department that charged man for bleeding on them. That racially profiles. That attacked protesters. It’s super duper complex. There’s no possible way to deal with it but a double tap. People are just *overreacting*.

      Trayvon, well, you have the right to be stalked by neighborhood watch. No one should question that, their domestic violence history past or present, or assume that one might respond badly. It’s just ‘misunderstood’.

      Thanks for coming to explain this complexity to us.

    • Jennifer Starr

      You do realize that George Zimmerman was not a police officer, right? He wasn’t even a security guard. He was a wannabe who decided to get his gun and play cop by stalking an unarmed teenager.

      • catseye

        Zimmie is, in fact, the worst nightmare of a responsible police or security officer; i.e. a deranged loose cannon wannabe.

    • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

      Off the Pigs! My I have not said that since 1969.

    • Ibicella Lutae

      They ALWAYS say they “charged” the cop. Black people are apparently part bull or something.

  • gthog61

    Left wing nutjobs continue to get craizer.

    • Arekushieru

      Right wing ‘nutjobs’ continue to make uneducated comments without providing any evidence with which to back UP those comments. Now, who does that tell you is the REAL ‘nutjob’? Hint: It doesn’t start with l end with t and rhyme with heft. Oops.

    • Dez

      Like right wingers who want to create our country into a theocracy because of their imaginary friend. Your definition of crazy must be something else.

  • Rey Flores

    This article would be laughable if the irony wouldn’t be so damning.

    Ms. Cross laments “… the death of so many youth of color in this country”, yet Planned Parenthood’s eugenics-based roots are responsible for killing mainly black babies through abortion and abortifacients throughout America’s black communities.

    Then she mentions “… the universe of conditions necessary to create and sustain life”. Sustain life? Really? Are you serious?

    Coming from Planned Parenthood’s RH Reality Check, this is just too damn much.

    Check this map out of where Planned Parenthood plants their death mills in mainly black and Hispanic communities: http://www.protectingblacklife.org/pp_targets/index.html

    • Shan

      *facepalm*

      • Rey Flores

        Try that face palm a little harder and you might knock some sense into yourself, Sham.

        • A. T.

          So you want people to have babies, but not protect them in life? Predictable, as always. Get out with that crap.

        • Shan

          Charming. Did you read my response to Ed below? I don’t usually like to copy/paste.

    • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

      Prominent members of the Black community in Harlem asked Mrs. Sanger to open a birth control clinic there in Harlem in the 1920s. I think they would know a racist when they saw one.
      I am looking at you, Bunky. You are a zealot and the truth is not in you.

      • irene adler

        hate to say it, but there’s quite a bit of evidence that sanger was a racist, but then again, who wasn’t?

        • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

          Correct. She had the race and eugenics opinions of her progressive peers. The United States were doing eugenic involuntary sterilizations, some until 1956. A few states still have these laws on the books. She was never the person portrayed by forced birth cultists.

        • Arekushieru

          There is a poster on here who goes by the name of Jovan. He is a black man. He regularly posts articles on Margaret Sanger in response to erroneous claims that are made about her. One such article contains a description of what you just mentioned. It doesn’t deny that Margaret Sanger was racist, but, at the same time, it describes how Margaret Sanger employed both black and white people yet expected the black employees to be treated just as fairly as their fellow white employees.

        • canaduck

          Margaret Sanger was not a racist, though as people have pointed out, she was into eugenics, which was considered sound social policy at the time by many. She was a friend of such prominent civil rights advocates as W.E.B. Dubois and Martin Luther King, Jr.

          http://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/8013/9611/6937/Opposition_Claims_About_Margaret_Sanger.pdf

          I know that those who are already convinced that Planned Parenthood thirsts endlessly for the blood of aborted babies probably won’t even bother to click on this excellent factsheet (even though it’s filled with multiple sourced quotes from Sanger herself, including the ones that are so frequently taken out of context by the opposition) but those of us with a better sense of what PP does should read it; it’s a shame to get the facts wrong.

          • Arekushieru

            Canaduck, I believe Irene Adler is an ally. I think her position rises mainly from the fact that a white person shouldn’t be deciding who is racist against black people and who is not. Since Planned Parenthood is primarily an organization developed by white people, which, in the so-called common court of opinion, is a predominantly WHITE organization, as well, unfortunately, i don’t think we can rely on any claims they make to the contrary. After all, it doesn’t really matter if she was a racist or a eugenicist except to maintain that white people shouldn’t be overriding black people’s own experiences.

            And that’s all I wanted to relate to people in the thread, in general, what Irene Adler might actually be trying to conveigh.

          • canaduck

            “I think her position rises mainly from the fact that a white person shouldn’t be deciding who is racist against black people and who is not.”

            Absolutely a good point on your part and on hers. But direct quotes from the woman as well as her allyship with (and commendations from) prominent black leaders of the day can, in the very least, point us in the right direction.

            At any rate there is no reason to agree with anti-choicers on the lie that she was a raging racist working for “the extermination of the black race” when we really mean that yeah, as a white person living in a racist society (like ours today, obviously) she was probably racist to some degree (even if she tried not to be.)

          • Arekushieru

            VERY true.

    • Arekushieru

      If you live in the United States, your roots are eugenic-based. If you are referring to contraception as an abortifacient, you would be wrong. Contraception also PREVENTS abortions. Also, refer to what I said in response to Mr. Kosky, there.

      Planned Parenthood’s abortions services only comprise three percent of their TOTAL services. They also provide contraceptive services, which, as I said, rather practically PREVENT abortion, wellness exams, cancer screenings, etc… that y’know also happen to PRESERVE a person’s life. Also, those maps have consistently been proven wrong.