When the Capitol was overrun with President Trump’s supporters mere weeks ago, the news cycle was intense. Not only were we trying to make sure that the Senate and House members of Congress were safe and secure, but we were also trying to make sense of what exactly was happening between the Capitol Police and the insurrectionists. Social media was on fire, but one particular trend caught Black Twitter’s eye: #SayHerName was trending but not for the right reasons.
The #SayHerName campaign was launched in December 2014 to raise “awareness to the often invisible names and stories of Black women and girls who have been victimized by racist police violence, and provides support to their families,” according to the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies. So it was appalling to some people that one of the Trump supporters who breached the Capitol and then succumbed to her injuries by Secret Service was heralded on the same day as the attempted coup under the #SayHerName hashtag.
The first time I heard #SayHerName in use was in 2015 when Waller County, Texas, was rocked by the murder of Sandra Bland. Bland, a 28-year old Black woman, was found hanging in her jail cell. Initially, her death was ruled a suicide by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science. Once a video circulated of her being arrested aggressively during a traffic stop, protests around the country broke out over her death’s injustice. For several weeks, protestors and activists spread the word and demanded that everyone do one thing until justice was served: say her name.
Fast forward through too many more deaths of Black women by police’s hands across the country over the years to January 6, 2021. Ashley Babbitt, a white woman, traveled from her home in California to DC to attend the Trump rally and ended up being a part of the mob that swarmed the Capitol intent on interrupting the chamber. After being warned numerous times to back away, a plain clothes officer shot Babbitt in the chest. Trump supporters took to social media to spread her name under the #SayHerName hashtag and were quickly met with backlash. Many pointed out the hypocrisy of the police response to Babbit by referencing Miriam Carey’s case, a Black dental hygienist from Connecticut, that was shot by the Capitol Police in 2013.
Carey accidentally hit a security rail while attempting to drive through a White House security checkpoint and was chased by Capitol Police from the White House to the Capitol. Once caught, they opened fire, and Carey was fatally shot in the back of the head in front of her infant daughter. Upon initial investigation, it was determined by the Department of Justice that there was “no willful violation of Carey’s civil rights” and therefore not presented before a grand jury. Now, eight years after Carey’s case was closed, her family has launched a petition demanding the DOJ take a second look.
It was utterly shocking to see supporters of the march who largely also supported ‘Blue Lives Matter’ quickly appropriate the #SayHerName movement, but it’s not surprising. After all, the Blue Lives Matter countermovement is a direct response to Black Lives Matter protests, supposedly on behalf of police officers. It seems as every cry for justice from the Black community is still met with whataboutisms from those in power. Nonetheless, the hashtag trended on social media on behalf of Babbitt for a bit before activists took it over to educate their audiences on the real intent of #SayHerName.
The jarring image of Babbitt’s screaming face in front of a sea of Americans carrying Trump, Confederate, and Nazi flags opposes what Black social justice activists are fighting for. The hate, misinformation, and xenophobia that fueled the Capitol insurrection (harming 56 officers, killing one, and forcing the then Chief of Capitol Police to resign) were driven by a selfish desire to see a political candidate stay in office. Civil rights were not taken from any of those in the mob, and we now know that the Capitol Police were woefully underprepared despite knowing the potential danger.
We as a country are still uncovering a lot of details about what led up to the Capitol riots and how they could breach its security. Some questions remain to be answered, but one thing is for sure: Ashley Babbitt was not a victim of police brutality and certainly not a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was an insurrectionist determined to undermine our democracy. She was no Sandra Bland, no Rekia Boyd, no Miriam Carey. And we will never say her, or other insurrectionists like her, name in the same light.