When Armed Police Attack Unarmed Children, Adults Need To Speak Out | National Organization for Women
Another gut-wrenching video has been released showing unchecked police violence against unarmed–and in this case underaged–civilians. This time, it’s an
WASHINGTON — For the past two years, ever since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, America has been enmeshed in a wrenching discussion about how the police treat young black men.
But this week’s blistering report from the Justice Department on police bias in Baltimore also exposed a different, though related, concern: how the police in that majority-black city treat women, especially victims of sexual assault.
In six pages of the 163-page report documenting how Baltimore police officers have systematically violated the rights of African-Americans, the Justice Department also painted a picture of a police culture deeply dismissive of sexual assault victims and hostile toward prostitutes and transgender people. It branded the Baltimore Police Department’s response to sexual assault cases “grossly inadequate.”
Baltimore officers sometimes humiliated women who tried to report sexual assault, often failed to gather basic evidence, and disregarded some complaints filed by prostitutes. Some officers blamed victims or discouraged them from identifying their assailants, asking questions like, “Why are you messing that guy’s life up?”
And the culture seemed to extend to prosecutors, investigators found. In one email exchange, a prosecutor referred to a woman who had reported a sexual assault as a “conniving little whore.” A police officer, using a common text-message expression for laughing heartily, wrote back: “Lmao! I feel the same.”
In honor of the National Day of Action to End State Violence Against Black Women, Girls and Femmes, lawyer, researcher and activist Andrea J. Ritchie presents some policy ideas to eliminate police sexual violence, gendered racial profiling and other ways officers target Black girls, women and gender nonconforming people.
Groups sponsoring the National Day of Action to End State Violence Against Black Women, Girls and Femmes include BYP100, Black Lives Matter Network, Project South and Ferguson Action.
Along with the collective call to #SayHerName, we also need policies that prevent and remedy the specific forms of police violence, racial profiling and criminalization that impact Black girls and women—cis and trans—and gender nonconforming people. In other words, we need to answer the call of Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, who last month told the Congressional Black Caucus on Women and Girls:
I don’t come to sit and be a part of a caucus where we talk and do nothing. …Movements move. Activists activate. We have got to stop talking and move. …[I]t is time to wake up, get up, step up or shut up.
I have been studying how we can answer the call for an action agenda around Black women and policing over the past two years, as a Soros Justice Fellow. What follows is a list of seven starting points based on what I’ve found in a range of sources including my survey of 35 police departments, President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, reports like “A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living With HIV,” and The New York Young Women’s Initiative‘s criminal justice recommendations released this week. I’ve also drawn from changes police departments have made due to public pressure and litigation.
This list is by no means definitive. Rather, it’s a starting point for an agenda that focuses on the particular ways that Black girls, women and gender-nonconforming people experience police violence. Each point represents an area where legislators and policymakers should take action, and where advocates can put pressure on them to act.
1. Problem #1: Black girls, women and gender nonconforming people experience gendered racial profiling.
Racial profiling takes on gender-specific forms including the policing of prostitution, pregnancy and motherhood. Officers particularly profile Black women as being engaged in prostitution based on the age-old jezebel stereotype. They perceive them as bad mothers based on stereotypes similarly rooted in slavery and the more recent “welfare queen” trope.
Statues such as “loitering for purposes of prostitution” also aid gender-based racial profiling. In many cases, police cite condoms they’ve found in women’s purses or pockets as evidence of prostitution. The combination of vague laws, dangerous police policies and entrenched stereotypes can make Black women who are simply walking down the street late at night carrying condoms grounds for arrest. These patterns of policing demand gender-specific and -inclusive responses.
New York City has led the way in adopting broad protections against multiple forms of racial profiling. Its End Discriminatory Profiling Act of 2013 is the most comprehensive, enforceable ban in the United States. The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the NAACP recommend similar measures for departments nationwide.
- State and local lawmakers should adopt and enforce policies as comprehensive as New York City’s. On the federal level, Congress should pass the End Racial Profiling Act of 2015, which would prohibit profiling based on gender, gender identity and sexual orientation alongside race, religion and ethnicity.
- State lawmakers should repeal of vague “loitering for the purposes of prostitution” laws, and ban the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses. Local police departments should independently prohibit their officers from criminalizing condoms as well.
Problem #2: Police are doing strip- and body cavity-searches of Black women in public.
In August 2015 at a Harris County, Texas, gas station, one male and two female police deputies overpowered and held down Charnesia Corley, a Black 21-year-old they suspected of marijuana possession. One female deputy pulled down her pants. Another sat on her back and cavity-searched her in full view of passersby. The horrific treatment of a Black woman is not unique. Public strip- and body-cavity searchers are experienced as sexual assaults, and should be addressed as such.
- Shortly after Corley was strip- and cavity-searched, Texas legislators passed a law specifically banning body cavity searches during traffic stops unless the officer obtains a warrant. All of the other states should follow suit to bring search practices in compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Constitution.
Problem #3: Police sexual violence goes unreported, ignored and unpunished.
Although there is currently no official data collection on the issue, study after study by law enforcement leaders, former police officials, academics and community groups demonstrate that police sexual misconduct is a systemic problem. In 2010, the Cato Institute found that sexual violence was the second most frequently reported form of police misconduct, after excessive force. Other research shows that officers disproportionately target women who are young, of color, trans and gender-nonconforming. Police also single out women who are criminalized through the war on drugs and prostitution enforcement. In surveys of 35 police departments across the country, I found that 52 percent don’t have any policy that specifically addresses police sexual violence against the public.** An investigation by Al-Jazeera America found similar results.
Additionally, the investigation and prosecution of police sexual misconduct is largely left to the police themselves, along with local prosecutors. Survivors are already reluctant to report sexual assault to authorities, but they are particularly hesitant to tell the police departments that employ their assailants. This is especially true for women who are—or are profiled as—involved with drugs or prostitution. Daniel Holtzclaw’s serial rape and sexual assault of scores of Black women made this plain.
- The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) should collect national data about police sexual violence against civilians through the Police-Public Contact Survey and other national surveys.
- The DOJ should develop and disseminate a model policy as recommended by the President’s Task Force and deny federal funding to police departments that refuse to ban all forms of police sexual misconduct, create prevention strategies and ensure accountability for officers who sexually abuse civilians.
- The DOJ should mandate, expand and audit police departments’ compliance with the 2003 Prison Elimination Act. This legislation and accompanying regulations set standards for the prevention and detection of sexual misconduct in all places of detention, including holding cells.
- Civilian oversight bodies and special prosecutors appointed to address police misconduct should be equipped and required to receive complaints of sexual violence. They should be able to support survivors, investigate police, and impose discipline up to and including firing guilty officers.
Problem #4: Police officers conduct illegal “gender searches” on trans people of color.
Transgender and gender nonconforming people are all too often subject to officers searching their bodies because they are curious, want to assign them a gender based on anatomy, or degrade them. These searches plainly run afoul of the Constitution. With the passage of HB2 in North Carolina, police could very well begin conducting such searches outside public bathrooms. Because they come into frequent contact with police due to racial profiling and discriminatory enforcement, gender searches disproportionately impact trans and gender nonconforming people of color.
- The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing unequivocally calls for explicit bans on gender searches.
- In partnership with advocacy organizations, the DOJ should develop, disseminate and monitor how model policies are implemented to ensure that authorities respect the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people
5. Police are beating and using TASERS on pregnant Black people.
While the idea of a police officer punching a pregnant woman or shocking her with 50,000 volts of electricity is shocking but not uncommon. The cases of Raven Dozier, Nicola Robinson, Tiffany Rent, Lucinda White, Malaika Brooks illustrate the need for clear and strong policies banning the use of TASERS, chokeholds, pepper spray, forcible takedowns and other forms of excessive force against pregnant people. Yet, fewer than half of the 35 police departments I surveyed around the country over the past year had a policy limiting this kind of force.
- Police departments should impose and enforce strict bans on use of force against pregnant people.
Problem #6: Black women are dying in police custody due to neglect, refusal of medical care and use of force.
All too often, Black women and women of color are perceived as deceptive, undeserving of medical care and incapable of feeling pain or illness. In July 2015, at least five Black women—Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones and Raynette Turner—died in police custody. This January, 16 year-old Gynnya McMillen died in an Elizabethtown, Kentucky, juvenile facility after staffers took her down using a so-called aikido restraint. Staff members failed to check on McMillen overnight, a policy violation. When they found her unresponsive in her cell the next morning, they waited for more than 10 minutes to act.
- Keep girls and women out of police custody by minimizing enforcement and detention for traffic and low-level offenses.
- Use independent monitoring to ensure that staff are following detention policies.
- Demand accountability from law enforcement personnel who fail to provide medical treatment to individuals in police custody.
Problem #7: Police are searching people without identifying themselves or the reason for the encounter.
Regulation of consent searches is particularly important to Black women because they are so often sites of sexual harassment, abuse, unlawful gender searches and drug patdowns. It is hard enough to hold an officer accountable for profiling and violence. It’s even harder when you don’t know the officer’s name and you aren’t empowered to exercise your rights during an encounter.
- Police departments should adopt the President’s Task Force recommendation that officers be required to identify themselves and explain why they’ve stopped, detained and arrested a civilian.
- Officers should be required to advise people of their right to refuse a search without legal basis. They should also be required to show proof of voluntary, informed consent to searches. These common-sense policies that are already in place in cities, from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh to Denver.
Of course, changing police policies is not a panacea to police violence against Black girls, women and gender nonconforming people. In order to to strike at the root of the issue, we need to transform our responses to poverty, violence and mental health crises in ways that center the safety and humanity of Black women and our communities. Still, taking action in these seven areas would go a long way to reducing harm while we work toward deeper systemic change.
Andrea J. Ritchie is a Black lesbian police misconduct attorney, organizer and co-author of “SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women.” She was a 2014 Soros Justice Fellow, a member of INCITE! and co-author of “Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States.” She has been organizing, advocating, litigating, writing and agitating about police violence against women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. Ritchie is currently at work on“Invisible No More: Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Women of Color,” and is a contributor to “Who Do You Serve? Who Do You Protect?, books coming out in 2017.
**Post has been updated since publication for precision. Fifty two percent of police departments surveyed didn’t have any policy that specifically addresses police sexual violence against the public, not just women.
NOW member Carolyn Crandall writes about the aftermath of her experience having been raped. It is the “aftermath” that is almost worse than the attack because of the treatment she incurred from law enforcement and those closest to her. In the 37 years since this happened to Carolyn things really haven’t changed. We all bear responsibility for how rape survivors are treated.
Wednesday, March 16, 1979 – The Attack
I was asleep in my bed after having worked overtime at my office until 10:00pm, then brought work home and continued working until around midnight, then I went to bed. At 4:00am, I was awakened by a board in the floor in my bedroom creak and when I woke up, a man dressed in black with a black ski mask was standing over me. When I screamed he jumped on top of me, put his hand over my mouth and pulled my night gown up over my head binding my arms so I couldn’t move, then proceeded to rape me. I thought this is it, I am going to die. Some time passed before I realized that he was gone. When I heard the back door slam, I got up.
I was in shock for a while and walked around my house trying to figure out what to do. I lived in a duplex and the balcony between our units was joined, so I ran next door and woke up my neighbors and told them what happened. It was a sister and brother who shared the apartment. They both said I had to call the police. At first I didn’t think they would believe me if I said I was raped since I was not beaten, stabbed or physically injured, so when I called I said I had been robbed. The dispatcher started asking me more questions and I broke down and told her what happened. The police were there in minutes, took down what information I could give them and then they took me to the hospital. My female neighbor went with me. The police waited while I was treated and examined and then they took me home. The police were kind and compassionate. One of the officers indicated that the rapist had probably been stalking me for some time and knew my schedule and that I was alone that night.
At the time I was a single mother with a four year old son and he was not with me that night. Earlier in the day I had called my ex-husband and asked him to pick up our son from day care since I had to work overtime. We had been divorced for 2 years and as far as divorces go, things were going pretty well. He had a steady girlfriend who he later married and I was doing really well in my job, had lots of friends and I was happy. He refused to pay child support but I was making enough money that I didn’t really need it and didn’t pursue it. We both wanted as little trauma for our son as possible. We shared custody and visitation and our son had a bedroom in both homes.
After the Attack
One of my big mistakes was telling my ex-husband what happened and asking him to take our son for a few days while I sorted everything out. His response was and I quote, “how could you let that happen”. He was furious and accused me of putting our son in danger, although our son wasn’t there. From that time on, he was impossible to deal with. He began the long effort of brainwashing our son to believe that I was not fit to be his mother. Even his family turned their backs on me. They treated me as if I had done something unforgivable. The only issue they cared about was to know if it was a white man, which of course I didn’t know. Somehow in their minds that would have made it OK.
I moved out of my apartment the next day. I called my landlord and told them what happened and they gave me my rent back for that month. I had a dear friend who opened up her home to me and my son for the next few months while I figured out what to do, how to do it and when to do it.
I called in sick to my employer for the next two days. When I returned to work, I met with my boss and told him what had happened believing that he would understand why I needed the time off. I had literally cried for four days straight and looked pretty rough. My eyes were almost swollen shut but I felt I had to go to work. Instead, his attitude towards me completely changed that day and from then on he refused to meet with me. I was no longer included in management meetings (I was a department manager and had 6 direct reports), my expense account was taken away, and when I asked him what was going on, he refused to talk or meet with me and would not take my calls.
A position became available in the company that I was qualified for as it was the next step up, plus I would have had a different boss so I applied for the position. I had been at the company for 10 years and had moved up through the ranks to my current position (there were only two other female managers in the company). My boss told me that I was not being considered for the position because they had to have a man in that position to ensure continuity and not have someone calling in sick and deserting one’s responsibility. To make it even more hurtful, I was ordered to train the new guy. That was more than I could take, so I quit when it was obvious the person they hired was not just unqualified, but strange in that he had G.I.Joe doll that he dressed in a matching suit of his and made me talk to the doll. Back in those days there were no protections for workers and no HR. But I did get some satisfaction as the “man” they hired was fired some months later for getting drunk at a company function and punching a customer.
Few months later, after I quit my job, I moved to another city far away and for the next five years, I moved every few months, sometimes every few weeks. I even slept in my car one night with nowhere to go. I guess I was running away from myself. It was a very dark and painful time. I asked my ex to take our son until I could work through what had happened not realizing that I would lose him forever. When I returned home, I was unable to regain custody of my son. As a result, I lost the emotional contact with him and even to this day the brainwashing has been so entrenched that we are not close and I have been unable to break through what was done to him. He is 40 years old now and I have two granddaughters that I have no contact with. He still cannot shed what his father, stepmother and grandparents implanted in him about me, which I still don’t know what those details are.
This is another repercussion of the attack. Lost job, lost child, lost family and lost soul.
I only went to one session of therapy and was told by the counselor to get over it and just consider it having had sex with a stranger. This is what is so unbelievable that people actually think rape is about sex. Rape is about power and violence against women and in my opinion has nothing to do with sex.
Most men that I began dating some years later were turned off to me when I shared my story. When I met Steve, my husband now, I told him why I was telling him so he could decide right up front whether or not he wanted to continue our relationship. 30 years later and I could not be luckier or happier. He restored my faith that there are wonderful and supportive men out there who can love and respect women.
Back story, the early years
My mother married an alcoholic when I was about 6. He beat me and tortured me when she wasn’t around. His favorite thing to do to me was make me stand in a corner with my back to the room and he would pile books on my arms and dare me to drop a book or he would kill me. He ate a horrible cheese and would rub his stinky hands all over my face and stuff the cheese up my nose. One time he took me out to a wooded area when there was snow on the ground and he took all of my clothes off and made me run while screaming at me. He would chase me and hit me with his belt and knock me down in the snow. I was black and blue from my neck to my heels with many cuts on my back and legs. That night my mother bathed me as she did every night before bed and she didn’t say a word. There were many occasions like that. He killed our parakeet by breaking its neck and killed my puppy by throwing him down the basement stairs. My mother would brag to others about how she threatened to kill him in his sleep if he ever touched her. I didn’t get that kind of protection.
I am telling this part of my life because it helps me understand my own mother’s reaction to me being raped. She never said she was sorry that had happened to me, never gave me any compassion whatsoever and from then on became paranoid about her own safety. The last time I saw her was on her 80th birthday in 2002. My sister and I had gone to her house to celebrate her birthday and I stayed over. My sister left the night before. The next morning while we were having coffee I asked her why she allowed Ed (her husband’s name) to do the things he did to me. She got very angry and then went further and told me he was the love of her life and she wasn’t going to hear any negative things about him. They were only married a few years because he died of alcoholic poisoning.
I never spoke to her or saw her again after that conversation until she died on March 24, 2005. I did go to the hospital because my sister wanted me to be with her to authorize taking our mother off life support. I had no tears but a deep feeling of relief, similar to the relief I felt when Ed died when I was 12. That may sound cruel to some, but that was my honest reaction.
Women have been raped for as long as humans have been on the planet. Some men, even today, see us as property and as second class citizens. I can see it in some men’s eyes when just talking to them. Some don’t believe that we deserve being listened to or to even contribute to society except to be here for their use. I will always believe that rape is about the ultimate power over women and a violent crime. Even our law enforcement society treats rape with less concern than other crimes. Why else would rape kits sit on shelves in the police departments, untested and untouched?
But I am one of the lucky ones, alive to tell my story. My scars are not visible, but will remain within me forever. I will never completely heal because you can’t take back what has been taken from you in such a personal way.
It is my sincere hope and dream that someday women will be cherished, admired and accepted into our society with the same importance that men currently enjoy.
68 years old
Like many people, I waited with bated breath to hear the verdict in the case of Daniel Holtzclaw. Holtzclaw is a former Oklahoma City police officer who was convicted of assaulting women in his community while on patrol. Twelve of those women and one teenager bravely stood up in court and testified against him. Holtzclaw targeted them on suspicion of drug possession, they said, and then forced them into sexual acts.
I wanted to believe that he would have his day of reckoning.
I hoped these courageous women would feel that people believed them and took their pain seriously, that it was worth all they went through in order to see him pay for his crimes. I saw them as amazing women, as sisters, mothers, and grandmothers.
But I also know they are Black women and the system has not always been a place where we have seen justice. So I waited.
One victim said, “I did not think anyone would believe a Black woman.” I can see why she would feel that way. There is so much rhetoric that says Black women can’t be trusted. Laws are created that tell Black women when we can and cannot become mothers; policies are pushed based on stereotypes and insults about Black women as parents and as people. And when we are abused or assaulted, we are often ignored, devalued, or delegitimized by health, legal, and political systems.
Black women know what is best for our lives, and yet there are countless barriers put up to deny us the ability to make our own decisions or to seek help and support when we need it.
For every Black woman who reports a rape, there are at least 15 who do not. We are portrayed as promiscuous. Our lives are treated as less than—like we don’t deserve respect or that our voices do not need to be heard. We are both preyed upon and made more vulnerable because we exist at the intersection of racism and sexism.
There is so much violence against us in our communities: A small study found 60 percent of the Black women surveyed had experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18. And advocates consider intimate partner homicide one of the leading causes of death for Black women between the ages of 15 and 35. In spite of the rampant cruelty and violation of Black women, these issues have not been at the forefront of the conversations about the lives of Black people. While we may not be killed by police at the same rate as our men and boys who are dying in the streets, ignoring or making invisible the violence aimed at Black women erases our pain and silences us in our own community.
There are likely other women out there who were hurt by Daniel Holtzclaw who did not come forward. They were too afraid—that they would not be believed and could not hope for any justice. When a young woman who was assaulted by Holtzclaw at 17 was asked why she did not report the rape, she answered, “What kind of police do you call on the police?”
The issue of police brutality is finally getting more attention due to protests and organizing by Black men and women throughout the country, and yet the very real issue of sexual violence by law enforcement is often left out of the conversation.
The unfortunate truth is that civil rights movements and protests responding to violence in the Black community have often prioritized the stories and the pain of men and ignored the suffering of Black women. This is in spite of the fact that the second most reported misconduct against police after excessive use of force is sexual misconduct, according to a 2010 reportfrom the Cato Institute. About 9 percent of the total reports made regarding the inappropriate actions of police that year—the most recent year for which data is available—involved some kind of sexual misconduct. More than 350 officers were implicated in complaints that involved forcible non-consensual sexual activity such as sexual assault or sexual battery, many of themrepeat offenders like Daniel Holtzclaw.
The majority of survivors who report rape and sexual abuse by police are women of color. This is a part of police brutality that this case brought to light and that Black men and women have to ensure does not get pushed aside in the media and in the movement for Black lives and racial justice. As we work to ensure that we #SayHerName and talk about women who have been killed, we also must talk about the sexual violence Black women experience. This violence comes at the hands of law enforcement when they are pulled over, detained, or in holding, as well as when they are in prison, where there is an epidemic of sexual misconduct.
Sadly, this violence extends to the juvenile justice system. Young girls of color are disproportionately incarcerated in juvenile facilities. A significant number of the young people in foster care and youth detention facilities experience sexual abuse and violence prior to entering the system, and then they are re-victimized.
Holtzclaw went after especially vulnerable women of color who are too often looked down and demeaned by our society and our systems, and who he knew feared what could happen if they were charged. This made his threats, his manipulation, and his violence that much more effective and horrific. Multiple women testified that he said he would let a charge drop or threatened them with jail time if they didn’t comply. This also speaks to our broken criminal justice system. When a woman who is struggling with addiction and using drugs can be assaulted because she is afraid of being caught up in the system, it becomes even clearer that the war on drugs is a war on women of color.
It is with a heavy heart that I celebrate the Holtzclaw verdict—not just because I struggle with the relentless focus on carceral solutions, but also because the effects of the trial are far from over.
It is not over for the women that Holtzclaw was accused of hurting. They likely will still be grieving and healing for many years. And it is not over because Black women must continue to work not only to reform a system where justice too often eludes us, but also work to put an end to rape culture and the myths that dehumanize Black women. This is the justice that we seek and it will not be found in a courtroom. It will be found in the conversations and protests and the organizing and advocacy that we do to create social, cultural, and policy change.
Reproductive justice advocates need to continue the work to take down the billboards that disparage Black women and our families and make sure the media does not ignore violence against Black women and girls.
We must trust Black women and believe the experiences they share are valid.
I am grateful to the multiple women who bravely spoke out and pushed for the justice that has eluded too many of us. But they should not have to feel or be alone in calling out the violence that Black women face. Black women and Black men need to stand up and speak out and shut it down to ensure that the lives and the well-being of Black women and girls are not ignored in the efforts to ensure the rights, safety, and dignity of the Black community.
December 30, 2015
Washington, DC – Anyone who doubts that the U.S. criminal justice system is in crisis need look no further than Waller County, Texas, where a grand jury has declined to issue any indictments in connection with the death of Sandra Bland.
Ms. Bland, a vibrant 28-year-old graduate of Prairie View University, who had returned to Texas to accept a job at her alma mater, was verbally and physically abused by white trooper Brian Encinia in the course of a routine traffic stop. She was arrested and held in the Waller County jail, where she was found hanging in her cell after three days. The local authorities say it was suicide, but her family and friends believe there was foul play.
Six months ago, NOW called for a federal investigation into the circumstances of Sandra Bland’s death, and we renew that call today. The public deserves an honest and transparent accounting. What was said and done to Sandra Bland during those three days at that county jail? What help did she request? Were her requests denied or delayed? Who made those decisions?
To gain a full understanding of Sandra Bland’s death, it is also imperative to take Waller County’s ugly history of racism into account. The Ku Klux Klan burrowed into the area in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and lynchings of Black people took place there from the late 1800s to the early 1950s. White officials’ targeting of Black residents continues right into the present, exemplified in the repeated recent efforts to suppress the vote of Prairie View University students through unlawful intimidation, restriction and regulation.
Officials in Texas failed Sandra Bland, from the moment Trooper Encinia began verbally and physically abusing her to her death in custody three days later. Their apparent unwillingness to hold anyone accountable for her needless suffering and death is not acceptable. With the whole country now watching this case, it is time for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in.
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