Scores of women have gone missing or been murdered in South Central LA, but racism and police indifference mean families are still awaiting answers, reports SARA CALLAWAY
OVER 200 black women are missing in South Los Angeles. As many as 100 are believed to be victims of serial murders. As part of International Women’s Week, vigils, church services and other events will take place in Britain and the US from March 11-13, to remember the victims and press for justice for their families and loved ones.
In London, there will be a screening of Nick Bloomfield’s film, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, a devastating exposé of official neglect in those murders that terrorised South Central LA for a period of over 25 years. Police reports recorded some of the murders as “NHI” — no human involved. The film includes interviews with the women who survived and with the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, which since 1984 has protested against the deaths and campaigned for the police to act.
As the trial of the suspected killer finally got under way last month the Black Coalition has called out the prosecutor for stereotyping the women as prostitutes and drug addicts. Margaret Prescod, founder of the Black Coalition, commented: “The victims are some mother’s daughter, some child’s mother, sisters, aunts and cousins — they were human beings who did not deserve to be killed.
“They have families who love them still, whose hearts remain broken. We have made this clear for the past 30 years. “Our slogan is: ‘Black women’s lives matter: Every life is of value’.”
In Britain, support for the Black Coalition’s work has been spearheaded by Women of Colour GWS and the English Collective of Prostitutes. We have organised vigils and demonstrations outside the US embassy. We protested against the double standard put forward by police, media and elected officials which says that if you’re a black woman, a sex worker — or the police assume you’re a sex worker — your life is worth less.
We highlighted how in the 1981 Yorkshire Ripper case, the evidence of a survivor, a black working-class woman, was dismissed by police, leaving the Ripper free to kill others.
Infamously, the late attorney general Michael Havers said during the trial about the victims: “Some were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of this case is that some were not.” Similarly in the US, a police commander asked Black Coalition protesters in LA if they were prostitutes, and if not why did they care about the murders “because the guy was only killing hookers.”
We’ll also remember victims of serial murderers in Britain — in Ipswich, Bradford and elsewhere. Police estimate that over 200 sex workers were murdered in a 10-year period.
Many of these cases remain unsolved. Instead, police target sex workers for arrest and persecution. We are campaigning against racism, criminalisation and the impoverishment of women and children which devalue our lives.