Black Women Sheroes Fight the Matrix
By Dianne Anderson
Names like Aminah Colbert and Marissa Alexander may not be the first sheroes to come to mind when thinking about social justice influencers, but they’ve gone through the matrix, and are determined to take it down.
Dr. Alisa Bierria holds a deep respect for women who are survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence and state violence, and now inspire others to organize around policy reform and freedom.
“When we’re anti-violence we have to figure out how to be anti the matrix of violence. We have to dismantle the matrix. There is this phenomenon that we’re getting it from all sides,” said Dr. Bierria, assistant professor of African American Studies in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside.
Marissa Alexander is one example among many.
Alexander was sentenced to 20 years for shooting a warning shot after her abusive husband attacked her in Jacksonville Florida. There, she gained some legal attention by invoking a “Stand your Ground” defense, the same that George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin. Unlike Zimmerman, she was denied immunity from prosecution, and convicted by a jury.
Dr. Bierria also points to scholar Beth Richie, who examines what is called the matrix of violence both at home and in pathways to prison, which keeps Black women entrapped. Richie, a Criminology, Law and Justice Department Head, is a professor of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“She looks at deep connections between intimate violence that Black women experience in their community, and state violence that we’re also experiencing through police and prisons, and other forms of punitive state institutions,” she said.
Following an intense freedom campaign, Alexander was released in 2015 after three years in prison. Since then, she is connecting with legislators, organizers, and a broad network of formerly incarcerated domestic violence survivors.
“She’s been through hell and back, she’s an incredible mother, speaker, and a great political mind. When people ask me [about inspiration], I always think of Marissa because it’s hard to imagine how a person can get through so many traumatic experiences and come out the other side ready to fight,” she said.
Today, the work continues. Alexander is building a national network and a defense campaign to get charges dropped against Diamonds Ford while pushing an end to no-knock warrants.
Ford is a young Black mother in Florida, who shot an officer that busted through her bedroom at night following shots fired by officers. She thought he was an unlawful intruder. The officer survived, but the state is now going after her.
It’s not an unusual scenario.
Aminah Colber founder of “Survived & Punished” is also a leading voice on gender and policy issues, specifically survivors of domestic and sexual violence who have been criminalized. She speaks to prison reform that centers largely on the plight of Black men, while Black women remain missing from those conversations.
Most incarcerated women are survivors of sexual violence, Bierria said, which usually starts the pathway to prison either through arrests from self-defense, or using criminalized drugs to self-medicate to deal with trauma.
In thinking of great social justice influencers, others like Sarah Haley, a professor of African American and Gender Studies at UCLA look at how violence against Black women permeates almost every stage of their lives, and even home is not safe.
“It’s a carceral domestic violence that have taken lives, certainly Breonna Taylor, but others, like a 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was shot and killed in a raid by Detroit officer,” she said,
Bierria also organizes around social justice on gender and carceral violence, and she applauds Black feminist Andrea Ritchie, the author of “Invisible No More” for her role in bringing sophisticated analysis and strategies in organizing and policy.
Ritchie talks about numerous cases of police rape and harassment of Black women that are treated as isolated incidents. Police violence and over-incarceration are often entangled with sexuality and race.
For all of the barriers, there are some inroads to awareness, but Bierria said the fight still a long way from over. In 2008, through collaboration, she said they started their toolkit to help women deal with police violence against women and trans people of color.
“There wasn’t much written then or many comprehensive organizing tools available. It was Say Her Name, a toolkit we created that Andrea spearheaded that was the precursor to her landmark book,” she said.
Today, attention is growing within the wider community, websites, hashtags, books and organizing resources to expand awareness of the connection between policing, and violence against Black women.
“When you think Black women needing their own place of peace and safety, but that gets disrupted by loved ones, and also police in a different abusive context. You understand how intimate violence is coming from different parts of that matrix.”
To learn more about the Petition for Diamonds Fords, see
To see national trends of incarceration of women, see
For more information, see