One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is when your work helps advance knowledge – even if it’s in a small way. The murder of Pfc. LaVena Johnson is a case that has stayed with me for many years. Any opportunity I get to tell people about her tragic murder and her family’s steadfast determination in exposing those who let her murderer(s) go free – I take it with both hands.
I recently learned about a study in the “Journal of Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography” titled: Landscapes of impunity and the deaths of Americans LaVena Johnson and Sandra Bland. It’s truly a fascinating read and I’m so honored that my Huffington Post piece about LaVena was chosen to be part of the research that brought this important topic into focus.
It’s little moments like this that make it all worthwhile.
On July 19th, 2005, American Army Private First Class LaVena Johnson died in Balad, Iraq, just 8 days shy of her 20th birthday. On July 13th, 2015, almost 10 years later, 28-year-old Sandra Bland’s life came to an abrupt end in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas. Both women’s deaths were ruled suicides, and both women’s families and friends reject these judgments. Instead, they insinuate foul play by the state, which directly governed the militarized spaces within which the women both died. At first glance, these women appear to have had very different life trajectories, one a United States soldier and the other a Black Lives Matter activist. However, in both of their cases, the ruling of the suspicious deaths as suicides illustrates the state’s attempt to render their deaths banal, and thereby diminish the state’s own culpability. In understanding the unremitting acts of violence, on women’s bodies, especially women of color, this paper focuses on how a Black feminist praxis extends feminist notions of an ethics of care.