As the country collectively gasped in horror at the on-camera killing of Ma'Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Columbus, Ohio teenager who was gunned down by Officer Nicholas Rearden during a knife attack, one prevailing narrative has emerged that focuses on the actions of the officer. Though the officer’s actions are worthy of discussion, I feel there are four indicators that reveal Black girls are in crisis.
Ma’Khia, by all accounts was described as a loving and beautiful soul, yet her home life and demise are becoming an all-too-familiar end for Black girls. As details of her home life slowly emerge, we find out that Ma’Khia was not living with her parents, but instead she and her little sister were living in a foster home that housed 10 people. Reportedly, she had only been in the home for six months, but she and her sister had been in foster care since 2018.
This troubling revelation leads me to the first indicator that confirms Black girls are in crisis.
Sign of Crisis #1: More and more Black girls live in an unstable home environment. According to the National Women’s Law Center, Black girls are 22.9 percent of the girls in foster care, but are the largest group, or 35.6 percent, of girls who experience 10 or more residential placements. Living in an unstable household can lead to depression, increased stress, social anxiety, uncontrollable emotional responses, and difficulty in relationships according to Psychology Today.
More troubling is the increasing number of Black girls who are homeless, accounting for 39.8% of the homeless population. This growing instability is causing young African American girls to have to live in unfamiliar surroundings with people they do not know. We can see the strain of such a living arrangement on Ma’Khia as she repeatedly complained of being bullied while in foster care.
Sign of Crisis #2: At-risk Black girls are being raised by parents in crisis. Sadly, in 2019, 4.15 million or 64% of black children in the United States were being raised in a single-parent household. Beyond the increased stressors of financial responsibility and decreased sleep parents face, children of single parents who do not have a good support system experience lower grades, anxiety, and are emotional unstable. As the single parent works their hardest to fulfill the needs of their children, often the absent parent is emotionally and financially unavailable.
Beyond being single, some parents are faced with dealing with men with multiple children by other women, health problems, drug use and abuse, and a lack of motivation to escape their current situation.
Though Ma'Kiah's parents have had since 2018 to complete whatever the state demanded for them to get their kids back, they had not.
Sign of Crisis #3: Black girls experience violence too often. Violence in the homes of Black girls is prevalent as 41.2% of Black women experience intimate partner violence according to the Women’s Policy Research Institute. The feelings of anger, embarrassment, and helplessness are only compounded when they are in public as 33.2 percent of black girls report being in a physical altercation away from home according to a 2017 report by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
From television to music, society is repeatedly teaching girls violence is the first option versus the last. The result has been a generation of youth who have no anger-management skills, and a complete disrespect for personal boundaries.
Sign of Crisis #4: Dealt with more punitively than other races. Black girls are dealt with more harshly than any of their counterparts. In fact, The African American Policy Reform and Columbia Law School Center for Intersectionality and Social Studies report nationally Black girls are six times more likely to get out-of-school suspension. These suspensions are often the result of minor offenses like dress code and/or cell phone violations.
The punitive treatment of Black girls is not reserved for high schoolers either. According to a report by the Education Trust of New York in New York City, Black girls in elementary and middle school were about 11 times more likely to be suspended than their counterparts of other races. Often Black girls face excessive punishment and have trouble throughout school once they have gotten into trouble.
Sadly, this hostility toward Black girls makes them guarded and causes them to experience panic attacks, have difficulty socializing, and sets up a disdain toward authority. Because girls are already dealing with mental, physical, and emotional changes as they mature, the antagonistic way in which others deal with them causes even more stress. Teenagers are not equipped with critical-thinking skills until the front part of their brain develops fully; therefore, girls who are harassed daily often respond out of the emotional center of their brain.
Though all teens experience this lack of maturity, when Black girls respond to situations out of frustration, she risks being suspended, attacked or in the case of Ma'Khia Bryant, death.
These factors are warning signs that should stir our community to not only address the issue of policing, but to also do the hard work of looking inside and vehemently pursuing solutions that will address the factors that led to Ma'Khia's death.