Mitchell: Civil rights violations at core of street harassment

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I can’t wrap my mind around what happened to a Pittsburgh woman after she rejected a man’s advances at a bar.

Janese Talton-Jackson, 29 — a mother of three and the sister of Pennsylvania state Rep. Ed Gainey — was shot dead in the streets.

Charles McKinney, 41, who the police said led officers on a high-speed chase before he was caught, has been charged with homicide, drug possession, fleeing the police and reckless endangerment.

McKinney, an ex-felon barred from carrying a weapon, has said the gun went off accidentally.

But a bar employee told a reporter for CBS News that McKinney followed Talton-Jackson out of the bar and “positioned himself against her backside in a sexual manner.” Talton-Jackson pushed him away, the employee said.

“When a black woman rejects a black man, there is a risk that he will take personal offense that she has stripped him of the one source of control he has,” said Feminista Jones.


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Jones is founder of #YouOkSis, an online campaign to combat street harassment.

“In the last couple of years, all of the women who have been killed because of street harassment — at least the ones that made the news — have been women of color, mainly black women,” Jones told the online publication, “Hello Beautiful.”

Increasing the visibility of police in troubled neighborhoods — a strategy Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled last week to address the alarming number of gun-related killings in Chicago since Jan. 1 — won’t affect this kind of violence.

Street harassment is rooted in disrespect. Because of self-hatred, when a black woman is disrespected, the perpetrator often uses violence.

“Nobody wants to hear it, but, if we do not address the issue of self-hatred in the African-American community, there will never be a reduction in homicides,” said Tio Hardiman, the former head of CeaseFire, Illinois, now director of CeaseFire, Violence Interrupters, Inc. “No matter how many police strategies you come up with, they will not be successful until those African-American leaders address the issue of self-hatred.”

These are truly shocking words coming from a man who made his career training young people with street cred to interrupt gun violence.

While many whites are quick to point out that black lives seem to matter only when a white police officer is involved, too many African-Americans are silent when it comes to the shocking number of black people being killed by black people.

As of late Friday, there were no national demonstrations led by fed-up young blacks to protest the violation of Talton-Jackson’s right to say no.

You can understand how a woman could be harmed on the street during a robbery or assault. But knowing that a woman could be killed for refusing the attention of a stranger has got to be the final straw.

Street harassment isn’t a new problem. In a different day, a woman would risk getting a bottle thrown at her if she didn’t respond to a catcall. But the proliferation of illegal guns, coupled with the misogynist attitudes that have infected black culture, have made too many black women the targets of hateful behavior.

A black woman shouldn’t need to be afraid to tell a black man that she’s not interested.

The killing of Talton-Jackson was, at its core, a gross violation of her civil rights.

If that’s not worth a protest march, I don’t know what is.

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