Policy Reforms Will Not Fix the Crisis of Racist State-Sanctioned Violence

Dear Colleagues,

Yesterday, I watched a recently released video of two San Diego Metropolitan Transit Security officers kill handcuffed, 24-year-old, Angel Zapata Hernandez by kneeling on his neck for 6 minutes, 7 seconds. Angel begged, “Please, stop.” Angel questioned aloud, as he struggled to breathe, “why are cops so mean?”

I am haunted by his question. Angel was having a mental health episode when security approached him to ask why he was lingering near a transit track pedestrian crossing. His eyes were wide and child-like, his responses soft-spoken and seeking. Then, in a panic, he ran. Despite having committed no obvious offense, and in no obvious danger to others – when officers caught up to him, they decided to detain him on the floor, their knees to his back and neck until he was dead. 

Though police killed Angel a few months before Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, we are only now learning about this attack because the officers were private security – and thus exempt from California state police transparency laws. 

More laws, training, or policy reforms will not fix the crisis of racist state-sanctioned violence against Black, Brown, and Native communities in the U.S. During the course of the three-week Chauvin trial, more than 100 people were killed by police – including 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. Bryant’s killing complicated easy answers and required us to examine the state’s role in regulating Black, Brown and Native families, or what Dorothy Roberts calls “violence that stems from the very function of policing to enforce an unjust racial order.” 

We joined the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, and more than 80 of you, to release a joint statement of solidarity and call for liberation from state violence. We stand in solidarity, and yet, as an international feminist community we know that no statement can begin to address the layered harm built into every system impacting our lives – including health care, education, and economic. Nor could a statement begin to address the emotional and psychological trauma that comes with being a racial, ethnic, or religious minority in the U.S. and around the world.

We know that only by working together, shoulder-to-shoulder, can we demand a feminist future that ensures freedom for all. 

Recently we were honored to host the founders of Poderistas, an organization that will be key to helping shape this just future by providing the community, content, and inspiration to lift Latinas up as catalysts for change among their families and their communities. More than 10 women’s funds and gender justice funders have pledged seed support for Poderistas – exemplifying how crucial our sector is in providing courageous capital to women-of-color-led efforts.

Thank you for continuing to support local organizations with the vision and the lived experience that will help fundamentally transform our notion of the role of government, of safety, and of justice and liberty for all. 

In solidarity,

Elizabeth Signature

Elizabeth Barajas-Román
Women’s Funding Network 
President & CEO

Letters from Elizabeth