Editor’s Note: I wrote the following post about Rennie Gibbs of Mississippi back in June 2011. Back then I was disheartened that this was a very little reported story. Since then, Gibb’s story has gained very little traction until now. Last week, ProPublica ran an update to this story that is well worth reading. It details the case pending a decision by a judge as to whether the case will move forward. Since the ProPublica piece, a few news outlets have run her story. However, I’m still bothered by the fact that Gibb’s story has gained very little coverage by “Black Media” then, and especially now.
So I’m hearing that upon release, Casey Anthony will be whisked away to a secret location and a new identity. Oh the lengths “certain people” will go to protect a baby killing white woman – yeah, sucks to be you O.J. Simpson. Speaking of baby killers, let’s meet a little known “baby killer” who just so happen to be Black. Her name is Rennie Gibbs, and she lives in Mississippi. And of course you know how it is when it comes to justice and Black folks in the state of Mississippi, right? If you don’t know you better ask somebody.
` is accused of murder, but the crime she is alleged to have committed does not sound like an ordinary killing. Yet she faces life in prison in Mississippi over the death of her unborn child.
Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby’s death – they charged her with the “depraved-heart murder” of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.
Gibbs is the first woman in Mississippi to be charged with murder on the loss of her unborn baby. But her case is by no means isolated. Across the US more and more prosecutions are being brought that seek to turn pregnant women into criminals.
“Women are being stripped of their constitutional personhood and subjected to truly cruel laws,” said Lynn Paltrow of the campaign National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). “It’s turning pregnant women into a different class of person and removing them of their rights.”
First off, this case needs, and should be given more attention. Sure she didn’t fail to report a missing child for thirty-one days to authorities. This is a woman facing life in prison for the murder of her unborn child, when she was 15-years-old. I don’t know about you, but there are several egregious issues with that scenario. First one being: she was a teenager with a drug problem at the time. But I guess that’s no big deal since there’s an epidemic of Black teens pregnant and hooked on drugs as some Conservatives would have you believe.
Please believe that without the necessary media attention, this young Black woman is doomed. Without the media spotlight, with her being Black, and this being a case that sets much precedence — not to mention the political implications given the GOP’s war on women of late — this case is much bigger than the Casey Anthony murder trial. But like I said before, she’s Black so who cares? She just did what every Black woman did in the 80s. That is, give birth to crack babies who have now all grown up to be the scourge of our society, right?
I know what you’re thinking, “Nah, this isn’t about the rights of women RiPPa. This is about protecting and seeking justice for unborn children. After all, they have rights too, right?” Sure they have rights; I mean I’m all about fetuses being protected from being kicked in the stomach, or risk death at the hands of a third-party. But to criminalize a woman for drug use while pregnant when there’s no evidence to support it as being the cause of death of her unborn child? Hello! That’s bullshit! What, are we going to do the same for women who drink and smoke cigarettes while pregnant? Aren’t those “legal abuses” found to be more harmful to unborn children? I mean, that’s what the experts say, right?
Recently many of us in the Black community were outraged by the tactics of anti-abortion groups as they targeted the Black community with their billboards. We voiced our displeasure, and won. We should be equally disgusted and vocal about the indictment of Ms. Gibbs. We should let our voices be heard, and heard loudly. We all raised our voices and expressed our disgust when it came to the Scott Sisters and the state of Mississippi, and we were victorious. Today, we must do the same for Rennie Gibbs. We marched on Jena fighting for justice for six Black teenage boys. It would be a damn shame if we do not seek justice for one Black woman. Wouldn’t be surprising; but disappointing.
Thankfully others are already on it:
[…] Women’s rights campaigners see the creeping criminalization of pregnant women as a new front in the culture wars over abortion, where conservative prosecutors are chipping away at hard-won freedoms by stretching protection laws to include fetuses, in some cases from the day of conception. In Gibbs’ case defence lawyers have argued before Mississippi’s highest court that her prosecution makes no sense. Under Mississippi law it is a crime for any person except the mother to try to cause an abortion.
“If it’s not a crime for a mother to intentionally end her pregnancy, how can it be a crime for her to do it unintentionally, whether by taking drugs or smoking or whatever it is,” Robert McDuff, a civil rights lawyer asked the state supreme court.
McDuff told the Guardian that he hoped the Gibbs prosecution was an isolated example. “I hope it’s not a trend that’s going to catch on. To charge a woman with murder because of something she did during pregnancy is really unprecedented and quite extreme.”
He pointed out that anti-abortion groups were trying to amend the Mississippi constitution by setting up a state referendum, or ballot initiative, that would widen the definition of a person under the state’s bill of rights to include a foetus from the day of conception.
Some 70 organisations across America have come together to file testimonies, known as amicus briefs, in support of Gibbs that protest against her treatment on several levels. One says that to treat “as a murderer a girl who has experienced a stillbirth serves only to increase her suffering”.
Another, from a group of psychologists, laments the misunderstanding of addiction that lies behind the indictment. Gibbs did not take cocaine because she had a “depraved heart” or to “harm the foetus but to satisfy an acute psychological and physical need for that particular substance”, says the brief.
Perhaps the most persuasive argument put forward in the amicus briefs is that if such prosecutions were designed to protect the unborn child, then they would be utterly counter-productive: “Prosecuting women and girls for continuing [a pregnancy] to term despite a drug addiction encourages them to terminate wanted pregnancies to avoid criminal penalties. The state could not have intended this result when it adopted the homicide statute.”
Some of you are still angry about Casey Anthony getting away with murder as you se it. Well, you should be just as angry or even more, if this young Black woman goes to prison for the rest of her life, for the crime of being a troubled teen. Surely in good conscience you can’t say that she deserves to be in prison.