Clarissa Jean-Philippe, 27, a French police officer, was shot and killed by Amedy Coulibaly a day before he murdered Yoav Hattab, 21, Yohan Cohen, 20, Philippe Braham, 45, and Francois-Michel Saada, 64, four Jewish men at a Kosher grocery store in Paris. Despite widespread international coverage of Coulibaly's rampage, Jean-Philippe's death has been largely eclipsed. This absence of coverage parallels media treatment of Shaneka Nicole Thompson, 29, the first shooting victim of Ismaaiyl Brinsley. Brinsley went on to murder two NYPD officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, before turning the gun on himself. Similar to Jean-Philippe, Thompson served the public both as an Air Force Reservist and as a health insurance specialist for the Veterans Administration. Neither woman received the attention typically bestowed upon fallen or wounded officers or similarly situated public servants.
Of course both Jean-Philippe and Thompson happened to be black. The lack of value assigned to black lives is itself a form of racist terrorism. Sadly, Jean-Philippe was not the only victim last week of either religious extremism or the racist terrorism that helps to foment it.
As the world responded to the brutal slaying of twelve men and women at the purportedly satirical publication, Charlie Hebdo, roughly a week earlier Boko Haram enacted its bloodiest assault to date in Nigeria, leaving an estimated 2,000 dead and many wounded. Witnesses described the bodies mostly of women, children, and elderly, strewn about the bush. It is also believed that just three days ago, Boko Haram militants forced a little girl to wear a bomb to a crowded Nigerian market, which was detonated remotely, killing the girl along with 19 others. World leaders have not gathered to mourn these dead nor have they mobilized against the intensifying violence. Instead, upwards of a million marched for unity to show solidarity with France and to honor the French victims killed over a horrific three days of terror. But also a great many marched in defense of Charlie Hebdo's right to publish cartoons like the one depicting the 273 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram last year as sex-slaves turned pregnant welfare queens.
Many have tried to excuse the deeply racist and obscene caricatures by claiming that the magazine offended all--Jews, Christians, and Muslims as well as politicians, world leaders, and rich and poor alike. But this is an impossibility because these populations do not exist on a level playing field. The words, the images, the stereotypes, the historical context does not exist for these groups to be equally offended. Moreover, the fact that nearly every critique of Charlie Hebdo since has began with a declaration of allegiance to free speech followed immediately by a denunciation of the violence against its publishers is itself evidence of structural, racial, and gendered disparities: would the now-deceased editors and cartoonists have been remotely concerned about extending the Nigerian terror victims the same courtesies? Hardly.
With so many world leaders present at the march in Paris, 40 in all, the event should have been broadened to represent all of the victims of violent, religious extremism. These powerful women and men could have helped spotlight the harrowing loss of life in countries like Nigeria as Boko Haram continues to wage a vicious war against the country's citizens, largely with impunity. But the West is only concerned with its own suffering, and within that predominantly white suffering--such mourners are blind to the ways that this form of supremacy promotes and permits violence against so many others.
As black people we know what it is to be inconsolable in the wake of the senseless loss of life due to violence rooted in hatred. We know the frustration, anger, fear, and the utter despair that lingers. This state is our daily reality because of the skin that we are in. With each failure to acknowledge the loss of our lives, with each failure to punish officials, vigilantes, and extremists for the killing of unarmed black women, men, and children, the world and its systems of justice tell us that we are worthless. For most black women and girls that message is amplified by the fact that it also comes from within our own communities.
These kinds of senseless murders will not stop until the most powerful find a way to empathize with and seek redress for the losses suffered by the most powerless. At a minimum this acknowledges the breadth of the world's humanity.
I am Clarissa Jean-Philippe.