Lauren Smith-Fields via Instagram (courtesy of the Rolling Stone)

Black women’s murders are happening at a rate of 4 per day according to the Guardian, but the media and law enforcement continue to lag behind when it comes to investigating these atrocities. 

What is femicide? How is it mishandled?

On Dec. 12, 2021 according to the New York Times, 23 year old Lauren Smith-Fields was reported dead after a Bumble date with an older man. Her death was subsequently ruled as an accidental overdose (from a mixture of fentanyl, promethazine and hydroxyzine), despite assertion from friends and family members that she didn’t do drugs. The detectives in charge of the case (who have now been suspended) did not carefully investigate the last person she was seen with, failed to gather evidence, did not alert her family of the death. When her family inquired about why the man she’d been on a date with was not further investigated by law enforcement one of the initial investigators on the case stated, “he was a nice guy, there was no need to investigate.”  According to Lauren’s mother Shantell Fields, officers also told her to “stop calling.” The case itself had not been receiving much media attention until it gained recognition on tik tok and ultimately, Cardi B was also credited by Smith-Fields family for further propelling it to the spotlight. Her untimely demise is an example of Black femicide, the “the intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include killings of women or girls,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Femicide is typically perpetuated by men who are partners or ex-partners of the victim.

Founder of Heels On The Move to Heal, a non profit organization focused on bringing awareness and assisting families impacted by sexual assault and domestic violence.  Nakia Davis stated that part of the reason why these cases tend to get overlooked is due to the race of the victim, which inevitably positions them as unprotected. 

“Unfortunately, the African American woman (and not by our account) is the forgotten,” she said.  “And the non cared about you know, statistics show that we are not cared about by other races at all.”

The Guardian backs this, with Arkansas activist Coffy Davis stating that she’d taken note of a sharp increase in the number of Black women and girls who died in her area as far back as 2018, but she felt it was disregarded by the Black community. 

“It makes you feel invisible, or like nobody cares,” Coffy said.

What she believes has been able to help bring the spotlight on to the issue of Black femicide is the pandemic. A time period that saw a 30%,  jump in the number of Black femicide cases. 

“We had time to sit back and watch and listen and actually think about things that were actually happening in the community. If you think about the way of the world is that hustle and bustle every single day, you can pay attention, but only to the things that you want to pay attention to. The pandemic sat everyone down and gave us an opportunity to not only reflect on what was happening around us, but ourselves also,” she said.

As she states, the pandemic gave people the time to consider and reconcile with the issues happening in the Black community. She also believes that social media has played a significant role in bringing light to the issue of Black femicide. Once again, people had more time afforded to them to consider a lot of these issues. 

“We spent more time online during the pandemic and we did actually work and correct. And were able to see things in a new light. We dived into our friends’ lives a little bit more. We paid a lot more attention because we had the time,” she said.

As for the role of law enforcement in matters of black femicide, Davis states that negligence from law enforcement can ultimately lead to the intricacies of women’s cases being overlooked. 

“It happens time and time again. And we’re literally watching our young ladies fall by the wayside because officers just don’t give that same level of care to African American women, as they do other women in the world, specifically, Caucasian women,” she said.

A Pattern of Negligence 

Brenda Lee Rawls | Photo courtesy of Dorothy Washington

On the same day that Lauren Smith-Fields was found, so was 53 year old Brenda Lee Rawls (in the same city of Bridgeport). Detectives failed to notify the family of her death, and while her death was ultimately ruled to be of natural causes the same issue of mishandling by investigators over the cases was present (the case was also notably handled by the same detectives who were over Smith-Fields case).  As stated by the Rawls family attorney, even if her death were seemingly of natural causes, there could be further explanation.

“We know that there are many causes of cardiac arrest, and the conditions attendant to Brenda Lee Rawls and the unnamed man that she was with has not been investigated thus leaving this family with more questions than answers,” Darnell Crosland, the attorney for the Family of Brenda Lee Rawls said in a statement.

This negligence could, according to Davis, play a role in the willingness of Black women to speak with law enforcement prior to domestic violence escalating to cases of femicide. 

”Why make the phone call, if we feel like they’re not going to get the result, if we feel, and that happens a lot. You know, we have to sit back and evaluate, is this call going to get me where I need to go? Or am I going to be turned around as soon as I start asking questions,” she said. 

Police responsiveness and its link to the violence Black women experience is not a new concept. In an article titled,” Unique Issues Facing Black Women Dealing With Abuse,” Sherri Gordon points out that the hesitance Black women have towards calling police is rooted in law enforcement’s history with injustice in the Black community. This refusal to receive help is also, to some degree, linked to a desire to maintain solidarity with their community. 

“Meanwhile, others worry about the consequences their partners might suffer at the hands of the police. To them, it is just too big of a risk to take. For Black women, they do not want their families broken apart. Instead, they want their men to change and to be healed. They do not want them in prison,” Gordon said.

Davis backs this, arguing that aside from a distrust of the police that exists within the black community, a fear of being labeled a “snitch” is also what keeps Black women from getting the help they need.

 “Unfortunately, in our community, we have this thing where it’s like loyalty over everything. It’s that, ”snitches get stitches.” And in our communities, we’ve held on to this (loyalty) for so long,” she said. 

According to Davis, progress is being made in the discussion of Black femicide.   

”I do believe that yes, we have made positive strides,” she said. “There’s definitely a positive move. Hashtag the me too movement, and so many other important organizations and nonprofits and missions that have come to light due to tragedies, (unfortunately), but they’ve come to light and with all of the, with all of these entities coming together, uh, and, and promoting their mission and letting the world know just how important these things are, these missions are,” she said. 

An example of the progress as a whole that has been made regarding social justice is the unity that was seen in light of the murder of George Floyd, as well as the Black community working to make their voices heard.

“Black people are saying no more, “you’re not gonna put me at the back of the bus, you’re not gonna put me at the bottom of the barrel. I am important,” she said.

What can we do, how can we help?

Photo courtesy of Leah L. Jones

Black voices and their work to provide visibility to femicide can be seen over the few years. A march for Black femicide is scheduled tentatively for September 2022 organized. This was organized by Rosalind Page, a 52 year old nurse and mother of four who also runs the Twitter and Instagram pages “Black Femicide- America,” (which  document and track cases of violence and murder against Black women). Even with the cases of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls, what ultimately brought them to public attention on social media was people on social media Tik Tok in particular according to Prism Reports) calling focus to the way that their deaths were mishandled. As for ways that we all can help with Black femicide, Davis suggests putting in as much time as you can volunteering, as well as using social media  to spread awareness as much as possible. 

“Word of mouth is massive, even if you’ve never participated, but you believe in the mission of the organization. Tell somebody about it. Individually, there’s so many things that we can do. As a whole, coming together- boy, we can change the world,” she said.

To learn more about Nakia Davis and her work with Heels on the Move to Heal Click Below:

Go Fund Me Link for Black Femicide March:

Go Fund Me Link for Lauren Smith-Fields:

Go Fund Me Link for Brenda Lee Rawls: