January 24, 2023
St. Louis – On Friday, January 20, at The Luminary, over 200 local activists, organizers, and community members gathered with ArchCity Defenders and My Friends and I to celebrate the opening night of “Bound by Blood,” a multimedia exhibition featuring a series of portraits and video stories told by women whose loved ones were killed by police or died in custody, and an incarcerated Black transgender woman whose life is constantly jeopardized. Accompanying the exhibition is the release of “In Her Words: The Impact of Fatal State Violence on Black Women and Women of Color Left Behind,” a new ArchCity Defenders publication, which provides a deeper look at the loss and hardship suffered by women survivors of state violence, told in their own words.
St. Louis is notoriously known as a place where people are frequently killed by police and die in jail custody. A study by Mapping Police Violence shows that from 2013 to 2022, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) had the highest rate of police killings per population of all police departments in the United States. “Death by the State: Police Killings and Jail Deaths in St. Louis,” a policy report by ArchCity Defenders, found that the majority of people killed in the region are Black men.
The overwhelming fatality of Black men, however, often consumes the public discussion and media coverage of state violence and marginalizes the experiences of the loved ones left behind, particularly Black women and women of color, who frequently and predominantly are the ones who pick up the pieces, support their families, and lead the fight for justice. In seeing this through years of litigation, organizing, and advocacy with families of those killed by the state, ArchCity Defenders and partners saw a need to shift the conversation around fatal state violence to center the experiences of women survivors.
“This exhibition and the accompanying publication are necessary. So often, those impacted by state violence have little to no say or control over how their story is told, which is why we went about this project differently,” said Brittney Watkins, Staff Attorney at ArchCity Defenders. “It is rare that those impacted by fatal state violence are able to tell their story firsthand and highlight the complexity of their experience, particularly Black women, women of color, and femme survivors. It’s time we include them in the conversation.”
The exhibition centers impacted women– Tammy Bufford, Toni Taylor, Gina Torres, Khorry Ramey, Wanda Parker, Maria Miller, and Lexii Alexander, who shed light on the reverberating impacts of fatal state violence faced by women survivors, from battling false media narratives to the state’s failure to provide transparency and accountability; social death and lack of support; and the courage to expose and advocate against the harms caused by institutions purported to be just and protective.
“When the news cameras are gone, these are the people who are still standing, mourning, and holding onto the most authentic memories of the person who has been lost,” says Cami Cruz, founder of My Friends and I. “These women deserve to share what’s on their hearts and to be heard in the exact manner that they choose to communicate their feelings. The video portion allows the audience to sit quietly and listen to what these women have to say. Their stories are important, and the biography of the lives lost are not complete without the perspective of the women who loved them the most.”
“We are eager to platform the voices of women and others who are important pieces of these stories, that otherwise go largely underheard and unknown,” said Kalaija Mallery, Artistic Director at The Luminary.
Members of the public can view the exhibition at The Luminary between January 20, 2023, and February 3, 2023, during The Luminary’s open hours of 9:00am – 3:00pm.
Watch the full-length video interviews here.
For more information and to read the publication, visit: archcitydefenders.org/fatalstateviolence
“Bound by Blood” is a collaboration between ACD, My Friends and I, and The Luminary.
ArchCity Defenders is a holistic legal advocacy organization committed to combatting the criminalization of poverty and state violence, especially in communities of color. ACD’s foundation of civil and criminal legal representation, social services, impact litigation, policy and media advocacy, and community collaboration achieves and inspires justice and equitable outcomes for people throughout the St. Louis region and beyond.
My Friends and I is a hub for visual storytelling and video production created by Cami Thomas in 2016. Based in the South Side of St. Louis, Missouri and operating under the motto of “creation for creation’s sake,” each visual production combines the creative perspectives of a rich, inspired, and diverse community of artists from the Midwest.
The Luminary is an expansive platform for art, thought and action. Since its inception The Luminary has been a home for exceptional art that engages the pressing issues of the present. Through an active roster of exhibitions, residencies, performances, publications and gatherings, we act as a point of convergence for diverse publics. We cultivate thoughtful platforms for exchange, support forward-moving art and ideas, and attempt to model a more equitable and interconnected art world as an institution of our time.
The Fatal State Violence Response Program is a strategic initiative anchored by Faith for Justice and ArchCity Defenders, to support surviving families of those killed by the police and/or who died in state custody in the St. Louis region. Our services are free, volunteer-run, and open to all surviving families.
Angelo Vidal, Communications Fellow, ArchCity Defenders