Physical Murder and Political Asphyxiation: The Story of Danielle Hicks-Best

An 11 year-old Black girl is raped twice by men and winds up jailed and institutionalized for years by a callous and predatory system. The abomination lays bare the thin line that many African-American children and families tread “between physical murder and spiritual death.” Washington DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier must be made to answer for the crime. Meanwhile, “behind the scenes in the courts and judicial system, the bodies are piling up.”

In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, we explore the pain of Black families scratching to survive under the tentacles of white supremacy and the thin line between physical murder and spiritual death. Morrison uses the marigold flower as the metaphor to underpin the notion that human societies, like the biological world, require a nourishing environment, i.e., water, soil, air, space and sunlight in order to produce a root system that allows it to survive. It is the root system that anchors and transports the nutrients to the plant. In human societies, the root system is called the family and when it is undermined and destroyed by political power the consequences are not only physical death but political asphyxiation. The only response to such a system is mass resistance.

Police, as state-sponsored agents of violence, are paid to carry out and cover-up the genocide occurring in Black communities while allowing the exploitation of labor and the accumulation of wealth by those in power. As a reward, those in power provide salary, status and permission to kill with impunity. The Black Lives Matter movement has focused on the extrajudicial assassinations of Black boys and men as well as identifying the agents of the state who carry out these murders, called at various times in American history, slave patrols, vigilantes, White Citizens’ Council, Klu Klux Klan, White Knights and police departments. The names of these organizations that defend the 1% change but the functions remain the same. Black girls are being killed, perhaps not at the same statistical rate as black boys but, behind the scene in the courts and judicial system, the bodies are piling up.

A recent March 13th Washington Post article entitled “A Seven-Year Search for Justice” provides one onerous example of the thin line that many African-American families tread between physical murder and spiritual death. Both forms of death provide the platform to maintain power, intimidation and dominance in black communities.

Summary: An 11-year-old African girl, Danielle Hicks-Best, reported to Washington, DC police that she had been raped twice by older men (in their early to late 20’s) in her neighborhood. In both cases, forensic medical evidence supported her claims. Considering her age and the ages of the assailants, one would have assumed that the police would have conducted an investigation into statutory rape. Instead under the mis-leadership of DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, Danielle, then 12 years old, was charged with filing false police reports. “After 11, she lost the rest of her childhood,” her mother Veronica Best lamented. Ms. Best launched a campaign to save her daughter’s life that leads all the way to the Washington, DC Police Chief Lanier.

The family devoted their limited financial and emotional resources to addressing their daughter’s legal entanglement and providing psychological support against a system with unlimited financial resources. For DC police, little African girls like Danielle are neither children nor accorded the dignity of being fully human. According to the Washington Post, DC police violated standard guidelines for handling child sexual assault cases and “many officers treated her with extreme skepticism; in one internal e-mail, a lieutenant called her ‘promiscuous’ and the ‘sex’ consensual.”

Six days after the second rape and inhuman interrogation by DC police, Danielle was admitted to the psychiatric ward at Children’s Hospital for observation as a suicide risk.

DC police however, were on a mission. Two months after Danielle’s first reported rape prosecutors requested an order for Danielle’s arrest based on “Complainant/Respondent’s admission of lying to Detective Weeks and her subsequent arrest for filing a false police report.” It was recommended that this case be classified as “Unfounded for sexual abuse.” Shortly after Danielle turned 12 years old, a warrant for her arrest was issued and she, accompanied by her parents, turned herself in to DC police. Ms. Best, Danielle’s mother, remarked how difficult it was to “watch her daughter shuffle into court in shackles.”

Danielle’s case is not an isolated incident. Danielle was not physically killed but her spirit was murdered by a system that denied her and her family’s humanity. Danielle was never considered a child. She was simply used to justify the salaries and maintenance of a system based on the decapitation of black bodies. She became another statistic in the long list of US crimes against humanity. The Washington Post article features a picture of Danielle in a long blond wig reminding us of Pecola, the character in Morrison’s Bluest Eye, an African girl like Danielle, who dreamed of having blue eyes.

The purview of the Black Lives Matter movement should expand to include Black girls, like Danielle, destroyed by a vicious judicial system whose mission is to seek and destroy. Danielle, now 18, was eventually released from state control after being shuffled for years between detention and secure treatment centers. She never finished high school and had a baby at 15. Danielle is now living at home again with her parents. The question is, will anyone be held accountable for the barbaric treatment inflicted upon Danielle at the hands of the DC Police Department?