On Tuesday the nation was told the verdict of the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor. Breonna was an EMT, on her way to becoming a nurse, asleep in her bed, when she was murdered by police officers in Louisville Kentucky, in March during a botched raid on her apartment. A grand jury indicted a former Louisville police officer for wanton endangerment for his actions during the raid. No charges were announced against the two other officers who fired shots that killed Breonna. The only charges that were made were related to the gunshots that did not kill Breonna. As if her death was not the main concern of her murder case.
Our nation continues to witness the lack of accountability of police officers who kill Black people, including Breonna Taylor — we will continue to see Black infants and Black mothers die at higher rates than other racial categories in the U.S. The impact of police brutality on infant mortality rates and premature birth among Black women is the experience of racism transferred from one generation to another. As we see Black people killed by police, we see prematurity rates in Black newborns climb, and prematurity is the leading cause of infant death among Black infants. Prematurity is caused, often, by cortisol levels rising in someone’s system. Cortisol is created by the body when the body is undergoing stress of racism experienced by someone, or the stress of watching someone who looks like you get murdered over and over again. The brutality and murder of Black Americans by police officers are deeply related to Black women dying at high rates of pregnancy-related conditions. Black families are witnessing police officers murder Black people, and they are watching police officers persistently not being held accountable. This experience of witnessing, in itself, stresses the health and well-being of Black mothers and Black pregnant people. Links between police brutality and poor health outcomes among Black Americans have multiple intersecting pathways. Weathering, a term that has been used for nearly 30 years, describes the evidence of early health deterioration among Black Americans by way of the cumulative impact of experience with racism, adversity, political marginalization, and discrimination. The longer we see verdicts like the complete dismissal of the murder of Breonna Taylor, we will continue to see Black women face dire circumstances in pregnancy and birth. Because reminding someone that a world does not care about their life will create enough cortisol to result in premature birth, often, for Black women, resulting in infant death.
Police brutality is best described as a war on reproductive justice, a term coined by a group of Black women in 1994, including co-founder of Sister Song, Loretta J Ross. As Sister Song’s website says, “Reproductive Justice is the human right to maintain bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities." To achieve reproductive justice we must analyze power systems in the U.S., where politics are based on gendered, sexualized and racialized acts of dominance occur daily.
We must address how one form of oppression impacts another. We must trust Black women when they offer solutions to the inequities they face — in the home, community and in state and federal policy. As lawmakers and advocates create policies we must consistently consider protecting the lives of Black women in all sectors across the spectrum. We have to explore how we are intentionally anti-racist and challenge every institution to explore the same.
During Colorado’s 2021 legislative session we will hear from the Maternal Mortality Review Committee and their report of recommendations to the legislature on addressing maternal mortality in Colorado. We must integrate that report with the overwhelming cry for justice for Black birthing mothers, or Black women wanting to become mothers like Breonna Taylor and her mom by developing policy that is designed, developed, and implemented by Black women, to protect the vitality of Black women and their families.
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