by ray(nise) cange
I promised myself I wouldn’t watch the Sandra Bland video. I didn’t think my soul could handle it. I should have been more honest with myself when making that promise. I should have known that I would have to avoid Facebook because autoplay does not care about my mental health. I saw it playing and I clicked on it. And I heard a dialogue that made me weep.
Sandra Bland was arrested because she didn’t put out her cigarette. Listen to the moment of escalation. It is her refusal to put out a cigarette that is in her car that sends an officer on a power trip. He drags her out of the car, out of view of the camera and we only hear her voice crying out in different ways. I counted 13 times, other sources reported 14, where she asked what she was being charged with only to receive no answer.
This video was clearly edited. I can only imagine what is shown on those missing seconds. But I want to focus on the fact that this video was released as a way to justify her arrest. I am sure the goal was to show an “uncooperative” Black woman. For me, it showed a Black woman who knew her rights and demanded they be respected. It showed me a man using the power of a system to break a woman. And the intentional, deliberate actions of this man is why I believe it is plausible for Sandra Bland to have committed suicide.
When the hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody first started, I was apprehensive. I shared a few things on Facebook and retweeted a few thoughts, but things didn’t sit right with me. And finally it clicked: I couldn’t say that I wouldn’t kill myself if I were in police custody.
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The surfacing of this video confirms that Sandra Bland was subject to a violent, racist, and trauma-producing encounter with the police. And after seeing what I saw, from a video that was edited to remove what I believe are the worst parts, I refuse to dismiss the idea that she may have committed suicide.
Not only do I believe that the impacts of violence against Black bodies could push someone to mentally breaking, I also refuse to say Sandra Bland didn’t commit suicide because she is “not that type of person”. It is dangerous to push that narrative because it implies that there is a type, and does not leave room for nuanced discussions of mental health in the face of violence.
There is not a type of person who commits suicide. There are red flags for some people, ranging from a history of depression to past attempts, but I believe anyone can reach a breaking point. The only “evidence” that says she was not “that type of person” is the archetype of the “strong Black woman,” which does not allow for Sandra Bland to be a full human being who was impacted by trauma. This narrative also paints suicide as weakness. And for me, as someone who lives with depression and suicidal thoughts, suicide has always lingered in the back of my head as the option to say I am strong enough to walk away from this life of fighting systems that seek to destroy me.
The shifting of suicide from a position of weakness is why I want us to not take suicide off the table and to recognize the power within that action, if she did commit suicide. Sandra, from the beginning, refused to give up her power. And in that jail cell suicide may have been a form of resistance and an astounding statement of self-love. A statement saying I will not give you the power to kill me and I love myself enough to not endure you killing me slowly.
I want us to hold multiple truths. Whether Sandra Bland committed suicide or not, we can indict a system. We must hold nuanced discussions that address the implications of state violence while removing the stigma around mental health and suicide, recognizing that state-sanctioned violence can produce suicide as a response. Black people, especially Black women, do not all possess the strength and resiliency to continue to move through a world made brutal by white supremacy. And we can fight against state-sanctioned violence while recognizing the ways in which suicide can be a manifestation and a resistance to that same violence.
So #IfIDieInPoliceCustody, I ask you to do what I am doing for Sandra Bland. Do not deny me full humanity, including the possibility of suicide, and do not stop pushing and interrogating the circumstances surrounding my arrest and my death. Do not wait for a cause of death report to indict the system. Know that no matter how I died, by my hands or the hands of someone else, the system is guilty. Be it a bullet or a self-tied noose, this system kills Black people.
ray(nise) cange comes from the beaches of New Jersey, the walls of a small liberal arts college, and the books of Black excellence. they are a young trans person attempting to redefine the ontological praxis of blackness and masculinity. they are the creator of Awkward Trans Kid.
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