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Saturday, September 18, 2021

‘It just has me hurtin’’: Amid homicide rise, 23 Black women killed so far this year

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Sabrina Manley will remember her sister as someone who was always energetic, the book smart type who stayed involved in the community and tried to help people through a nonprofit she was in the process of expanding.

All of it was cut short. Latisha Burnett was killed July 12 at her home on the northwest side near Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She was 43.

“We can’t function,” Manley said. “We’re so torn because she was such a positive person.”

Burnett left her job as a computer programmer to start her nonprofit, WITT, about five years ago, Manley said. WITT, which stands for We In This Together, was a resource for women coming out of the criminal justice system. Manley said she was working with Burnett to buy and repair properties for young people who need housing.

Burnett’s mother, Carolyn Manley, said she’s struggled to eat and sleep over the last month, and she’s been seeing a psychiatrist.

“I’ve been sick deep down inside,” she said. “It just has me hurtin’.”

Burnett’s family believes it was a partner who killed her, though the case is unsolved, according to IMPD records. 

Burnett was one of 23 Black women killed in Indianapolis this year as of Aug. 4, according to a review of IMPD records. That number includes one unborn baby. July was the deadliest month so far, with five deaths. Four remain unsolved, and one was exceptionally cleared, meaning police identified a suspect but can’t make an arrest. Twenty-one of the women were killed by a firearm.

There were 150 criminal homicides in Indianapolis as of Aug. 4, putting the city on pace for another record-breaking year. (Note: IMPD includes homicides that happened in 2020 but weren’t deemed homicides until 2021; the Recorder includes only homicides that happened in 2021.)

La Keisha Jackson, a city-county councilor who represents a district on the far east side, said society in general doesn’t give enough attention to Black women when it comes to talking about victims of violence. She said changing that involves learning more about what’s behind the killings, whether it’s related to the pandemic, domestic violence or other factors.

“If we have the males dying and the women now at an alarming rate, we’re leaving kids fatherless and now motherless,” Jackson said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women in America experience the highest rate of homicide — 4.4 per 100,000 women. Roughly 55% of these homicides were related to domestic violence. Black women are more likely than any other racial demographic to be killed by a firearm.

“There needs to be more media coverage and PSA’s [public service announcements] to let women know the risks of staying,” Danyette Smith, founder of Silent No More, said. “You have to know what resources are out there for you, because staying in an abusive relationship could lead to death.”

Smith created Silent No More, an organization that provides domestic violence survivors with resources and support, just a few months after leaving an abusive situation.

Smith was a victim of domestic violence for 10 years. During that time, her partner frequently threatened her life and hit her so hard she had to have two plates implanted in her eye to hold her cornea together. After leaving her partner in 2014, Smith said she was unsure of what resources were available to her.

“Domestic violence was swept under the rug,” she said. Smith described difficulty finding help and support and said, as a Black woman, she experienced extra barriers to getting assistance.

COVID-19 has only exacerbated those barriers and caused a spike in the number of women killed by their partners.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the rate of domestic violence-related homicides in Indiana has increased 100%, according to Colleen Yeakle, coordinator of prevention initiatives at Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This is, in part, because many people were isolated in an abusive situation, and also because many shelters and service providers had to close their doors. 

Dena Simpson, coordinator of housing services for Coburn Place, said many organizations are still challenged by the pandemic, and COVID-19 put a spotlight on inadequate services and gaps.

Barriers to support during the pandemic, which she said are often faced by women of color, increased the “opportunity for that increase” in violence. 

Simpson said she’s seen people return to unsafe relationships throughout the course of the pandemic, oftentimes related to a lack of resources and hope. 

“Many of the service providers in the last year had to decrease capacity, but the need is still there,” Simpson said. “There have been resources that have come through for housing, but it’s still not enough to ensure individuals are safe and supported.”

Contact staff reporter Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick. Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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