Earlier this month, in the midst of the vast array of police brutality that has already claimed so many Black lives, Sandra Bland was pulled over while driving in Texas (on her way to her new job). She was supposedly stopped for failure to turn on her signal when changing lanes. Right.
Video footage of the interaction shows her being forced down to the ground by the state trooper while Sandra can be heard screaming in anger about the unwarranted aggression (for more details and the video, check out The Root). Interestingly, Bland was arrested for “assault on a public servant.” The trooper himself maintains that he sustained only minor pain in his leg and small cuts on his right hand. Though the officer was unable to get the bystander to stop filming, it seems the video footage just didn’t quite catch the part where Bland assaulted the poor armed Texas trooper.
Perhaps because it never happened? In fact, the recent release of the official 52-minute video features a few discrepancies, such as a tow truck driver and car appearing in one scene, briefly disappearing, and then re-appearing – all while the trooper’s comments are heard uninterrupted. Not surprisingly, the Texas Dept. of Public Safety was quick to say that the suspicious video is the result of “technical glitches” rather than strategic editing to eliminate further evidence of police misconduct. The footage does, however, capture the trooper threatening “I will light you up” as he pulls out a taser. Inconsistencies and all, I can only believe that Sandra’s only “crime” was driving while Black, which led to her swift and brutal arrest. Just three days later, Sandra was found dead in her cell. Reports claim that Sandra Bland died of “self-inflicted asphyxiation.”
Is that what we’re calling the systemic murdering of Black folks now?
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If you’ve peeked at Twitter lately, you’d see that many others seem to be asking this same question. The hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody started trending after the media tried to convince us that Sandra committed suicide (see some of the tweets here: Twitter Responds to Sandra Bland Death). Why should Black folks have to instruct others of what to do if we die in police custody? Why are we dying in police custody at all? And more crucially, where do we go when the people responsible for protecting our lives are the very ones taking them?
Twitter is certainly serving as a starting place for many, but no hashtag will bring comfort to Sandra’s family and friends – all of whom suspect foul play. Not only is the suicide farce utterly insulting to the collective intelligence of Black folks, who are – and have always been – well aware of the systemic injustice that continues to claim our lives, but it is also a direct insult to Sandra’s loved ones, who are confident that the outspoken soldier for social justice would not have taken her own life.
But we know who did take it. I know. You know. Sandra knows.
And they know that we know. I only wonder if they’re afraid of the video footage that shows them violently slamming Sandra to the ground as she desperately and angrily asks them “do you even care?” or the emerging evidence that shows Sandra tried to bail herself out of jail before she was found dead.
Hmm. Why would a suicidal woman try to bail herself out of jail? That’s the question the police don’t want us to ask, likely because they know there are only two possible answers:
1) Sandra feared that even her soul wouldn’t be safe in that Waller County cell.
2) She had no intentions of committing suicide, did not kill herself, and was yet another victim of the U.S. injustice system – a system that has proven to us time and time again that Black lives don’t matter in this country.
I’m leaning toward Answer #2 here (though honestly, when I think about how fucked up this country is, Answer #1 doesn’t seem so crazy). As if in rebuttal to this answer, the latest news has finally acknowledged that maybe an investigation is necessary. The DA – who previously stated that there was no reason to suspect anything other than suicide – has changed his tune in light of the unedited-but-clearly-edited video footage of the arrest and now says that they are treating Bland’s death as murder. Still, in an attempt to reassure the public that there was viable evidence for previously claiming suicide, some sources show the inside of Sandra’s cell and highlight an uneaten meal, a religious book on the purpose of life, and a trash can that has the same plastic liner that was found around her neck. They also reference a clip of Sandra from some months ago where she talks about suffering from depression. However, Sandra’s loved ones say that she was happy during the time leading up to the arrest and was very excited about beginning her new job.
Sandra’s pastor, who also believes she didn’t take her own life, urged the public to remain non-violent, echoing the sentiments of other Black leaders in the midst of Ferguson and Charleston activism. Yet violence is an incredibly tempting response, especially when it seems there is no other option. If law enforcement can’t practice non-violence, then why the hell should I?
I’m done with peace and politeness. Black folks need to realize that the politics of respectability are doing nothing more than making it easier for the police to get away with murder.
If we adhere to these politics, if we don’t riot, if we don’t physically take back our own freedom, then I fear that we will forever be saying “please don’t kill us, but if you do, we won’t make a fuss.” I can’t do that. And if “violence” – as the white people will call it – is necessary, then so be it (PLEASE refer to Mia McKenzie’s excellent breakdown of what violence is and isn’t).
Sandra’s funeral service is set to take place in Chicago. As she is laid to rest, I predict much political unrest to come. There is talk of the Bland case going to the grand jury next month.
I’m tired of peaceful protests, preaching, and prayers. I want change. I want freedom. I want to live my life without fear of being killed at a party or in a prison.
If I Die in Police Custody, I did not do so peacefully.
If I Die in Police Custody, ask if it was because of this article.
Sending love to Sandra’s family and friends…
LaLa is a Black queer NerdWithAttitude who recently graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in Feminist Studies and a BA in Psychology. The 21 year old is an aspiring child therapist from Compton who loves cooking, writing, guavas, and tattoo pain.
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