Follow Freedom, Inc. for opportunities to engage in advocacy surrounding Kenyairra Gadson and Black Domestic Violence Advocate Jessica Williams.
On Kenyairra Gadson Hearing
“To be a poor queer woman of color is to embody guilt.”
-Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, The Atlantic (2020)
On May 6th, 2022, advocates from End Abuse, WCASA, the RCC, and UNIDOS joined Freedom, Inc. in attending the sentencing hearing for Kenyairra Gadson. Kenyairra was sentenced to 13 years initial confinement (incarceration) and 11 years of extended supervision.
In the above quotation, Dr. Kendi references what we see exemplified in Kenyairra Gadson’s case: because of systemic racism, homophobia, and classism embedded in our social consciousness and our criminal legal system, poor, Black, queer women aren’t seen as credible victims. The result is criminalization of those who hold these identities – like Kenyairra – for surviving a system designed to work against them.
Kenyairra asserts she acted in self-defense. We believe Kenyairra was not seen as a credible victim of sexual and homophobic harassment because of discrimination against her identities as a Black queer woman. Kenyairra has been villainized and convicted after fighting to survive.
In Kenyairra’s case, we see an example of the socio-cultural right to victimhood tied to proximity of whiteness and cis-hetero femininity. As a Black, masc-presenting queer woman, Kenyairra falls outside of the perceived “perfect victim” trope. As anti-violence advocates know all too well, when survivors of domestic and sexual violence do not feel safe seeking support from law enforcement, the legal system, or mainstream support services, they experience escalating violence and ultimately must defend themselves. This is an example of the “criminalization of survival,” which describes the reality that surviving under circumstances of racism, classism, and homophobia is made to be a crime, and that survival is individualized rather than considered in its wider context.
Neither survivors nor those who use violence find safety or rehabilitation in carceral punishment; rather, the criminal legal system perpetuates harm.
In WI, we disproportionately incarcerate Black and Indigenous community members at the highest rate of any state in the nation, and criminalization disproportionately impacts Black women and the LGBTQ community. In recent years, right here in our state, we’ve seen that self-defense is accessible to wealthy, cisgender white men with automatic weapons but not for Black underaged victims of sex trafficking.
We remain committed to the truth that all oppression is connected. For Black women, we must consider root causes of interpersonal violence and the true impacts of a carceral response to harm.
Root causes of interpersonal violence we see in Kenyairra’s case include structural racism, economic exploitation, and patriarchal violence, all of which result from settler colonialism, white supremacy, racial capitalism, and cis-heteronormative patriarchy. We name these root causes as part of our collective role in building a world rooted instead in a transformative justice framework, and we assert there are meaningful alternatives in the paradigm of the Beloved Community.
We cannot separate individual cases like Kenyairra’s from their context in systemic and institutional oppression. We can only meaningfully address the racism and homophobia exemplified in Kenyairra’s case by addressing ALL forms of violence at its roots. And we are committed as a coalition to doing just that.
On Jessica Williams Arrest
As the statewide coalition working for victims and survivors of domestic violence, we have a deep understanding of the role the criminal legal system plays in perpetuating violence against victims and survivors – especially those who feel forced to use violence in self-defense. We consistently see this disproportionately impacting those who are already marginalized by race, gender, and economic status, as is reflected in the fact that Wisconsin incarcerates Black adults at the highest rate of any state in the nation.
Interpersonal violence takes many forms, and is often connected to broader issues we address through our policy and systems work. We elevate the vocal advocacy of Freedom, Inc. and Jessica Williams surrounding the harassment and threats used against Kenyairra Gadson. Their advocacy highlighted how Kenyairra’s identities as a Black, queer woman impacted her access to safety, and successfully garnered attention despite consistent erasure of cases like Kenyairra’s in media.
The timing and manner in which Jessica was arrested and held highlights a disturbing demonstration of the criminal legal system and its actors attempting to wield power against Black women who refuse to allow the system to criminalize them for surviving.
We stand with Freedom, Inc. in demanding that all charges against Jessica be dropped.
We cannot separate individual cases like Kenyairra’s or Jessica’s from their context in their historical and current systemic oppression. We continue to uplift organizations like Freedom, Inc. who are working to name systemic racism as it actively occurs in their communities. If we are to truly serve ALL survivors of violence, we need advocates like Jessica to be able to honestly name and react to inequity.