Her name was Sandra Bland, and the information that has been released surrounding her death has broken my heart, yet again. I wept last night because another Black life has been taken too soon. I wept for Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and countless others, but Sandra Bland’s story has somehow hit even closer to home for me. She was a young Black woman who was an advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement with evidence of her support running up and down her social media pages. Her Facebook profile image was too much for me to handle—a simple phrase: Now Legalize Being Black in America. Then I saw this video, and I wept some more.
As usual, I received this news and video from Twitter. Most major media outlets take their sweet time to provide coverage of yet another Black life lost, another hashtag, another notch in the belt of discrimination, intolerance, and hate.
According to the Root, Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old woman who had just driven from Naperville, Ill. to Texas on July 9 to start a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M. She was slated to get to work this week, but instead of celebrating this occasion, she’s going to be laid to rest. The details are scant but what we know as of this point is that she was pulled over last Friday for failing to use a signal during a lane change in Waller County, Texas. Soon after, she was arrested and charged with assaulting the arresting officer who claimed that Bland was “combative” during the routine traffic stop. She stayed in jail over the weekend. Fast-forward to Monday morning, the day Bland was going to be released on $5,000 bail. A guard found the young woman dead in her cell, and after conducting an autopsy, the sheriff’s office claimed the cause of death was “self-inflicted asphyxiation.”
Elton Mathis, the Waller County DA, is calling for an investigation and even admits the details surrounding Bland’s death are peculiar:
“I will admit it is strange someone who had everything going for her would have taken her own life. That’s why it’s very important a thorough investigation is done and that we get a good picture of what Ms. Bland was going through the last four or five days of her life.”
To me, this seems like a case of 1+1= Jello. Things are not adding up. A woman gets what has been described by her family and friends as her dream job and travels to Texas to start work. She gets pulled over for a minor infraction, has an altercation with the arresting officer, and then hangs herself in her cell two days later?
There is a video circulating online that allegedly shows Bland’s arrest. The video is caught from a distance but you can hear a woman screaming in the background: “Ya’ll are so full of sh*t! I swear to God ya’ll are so full of sh*t…You just slammed my head into the ground, do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear!”
She thanks the person recording the video as an officer vehemently asks the person to stop doing so. She is then put into the police car, and the video ends.
My first thought: It’s a cover-up. It’s really not that big of a leap given the current racial climate in America. Where is her mugshot? The mugshot is usually made public immediately. It’s been well over five days and not one image of Bland has been processed. The lack of a mugshot adds fuel to the flames of suspicion. Are we not seeing it because the officers did indeed use unnecessary force and Bland’s head was bludgeoned against the ground, leaving marks?
Bland’s family and friends are adamantly stating that the young woman did not share any suicidal thoughts or state that she dealt with such feelings in the past. In fact, they say she made copious plans for the future, was greatly motivated, and was excited to begin her new job as a college outreach officer.
“The Waller County Jail is trying to rule her death a suicide and Sandy would not have taken her own life,” a friend, LaNitra Dean, told ABC 7. “Sandy was strong. Strong mentally and spiritually.”
While it is a fact that suicidal people do not always display the tendencies, it is also a fact that Waller County, Texas, has a long, troubled history of racial turmoil. Back in 2008, the New York Times even wrote a piece on the county’s segregated cemeteries. It’s hard to turn a blind eye to that when a woman of color dies in the custody of law enforcement under suspicious circumstances.
Speculation, anger, hurt, and numbness aside, the truth will come to light about what happened to Sandra Bland. If it is determined that this was indeed a death due to foul play, the all-too-familiar cycle will continue. People will protest. People will demand change. Some people, hiding behind keyboards, will blame Bland for her death. The media will do its absolute best to dig up any dirt to taint the character of the victim. There will be a probe, some magical distraction will attempt to take attention away from the crime. The officers, if found to be involved, will fade into the background with bank accounts full of early pension and funds from a GoFundMe account filled to the brim with hate money. Maybe the victim’s family will receive a settlement that is supposed to make it all better. Once the cycle ends, it will continue again when the next life is taken.
I hope to God that this is not our forever plight.
If it is determined that she hung herself, then it could open up a much-needed conversation about mental health and the stigmas surrounding it. Video cameras are often found in county jail cells, so if she took her own life, there should be footage to prove it.
I am devastated for the Bland family regardless of the outcome. If Bland did take her life or if it was taken in a cover-up of some sort, another mother has to bury her child, and that will never be right. We have lost a promising young Black woman who was hoping for change in our community, and I hope that the Bland family receives all the answers to the questions at hand.
In the meantime, I continue to thank God for cellphone cameras, protestors, social media, and the strength of our tired but forever sturdy community. May we one day receive the justice we need and deserve. May we one day break this cycle.
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