Never Too Far from Being Sandra Bland

#SandraBland #WhatHappenedtoSandraBland #JusticeforSandy #SandraBlandWeSpeakYourName

Another day, another crop of hashtags dedicated to the loss of a black life. Through these hashtags and subsequent news stories we were introduced to Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman from the Chicago area who was in Texas because she just accepted a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. On Friday, July 10, Bland was pulled over by police for not signaling properly during a lane change. Then, as expected nowadays, the tone of the story changed to Sandra being “combative.” It is alleged that Bland was hostile and violent toward the police officer that pulled her over–which curiously turned into two police officers having to subdue her. Video from an eyewitness shows Bland on the ground with two police officers on top of her. From what can be seen, there was no sign of struggle on Bland’s part, nothing that would suggest that she was being forceful with police as they’ve suggested. But what is heard is eerily similar to other incidents involving officers subduing people, particularly that of Eric Garner whose last words were, “I can’t breathe,” or the more recent incident of the police officer who slammed a young black girl to the ground at a pool party in McKinney, Texas. Some of the last words we hear Bland say are,

I can’t even feel my arm.

You just slammed my head to the ground, do you not even care about that?

All of this for a traffic signal, slammed me into the ground and everything.

Shortly after this, Bland was arrested and taken to jail for her alleged assault of the police officers. Bland remained in jail throughout the weekend until Monday morning when someone delivered her breakfast and then, two hours later, was found dead in her jail cell. Authorities are ruling this a suicide but Bland’s family and most people who know better roundly disagree with this ruling. Details surrounding Bland’s case are sketchy and everyone is looking for answers.

I want to say, “Since when do police require people to get out of their car for a routine traffic stop, especially one as routine as failing to properly signal,” but I remembered that in 2012, a white police officer  made me get out of my car on I-75 and walk toward him while he stood by his car. He had me stand on the side of the highway while he questioned me about why I was driving so fast, why I had Florida tags, how long I’ve been at Emory, and a bunch of other questions I no longer remember. I’d never heard of someone having to get out of their car on the shoulder of a busy highway and I thought I was supposed to stay in my car and wait for the officer to come to me, but he waved me to get out of my car with an irritated look on his face. So what happened to Sandra Bland is real, not a figment of our imagination. And what most likely happened–an assault that ended her life, not her taking her own life–is real.

But I also want to take a moment to point out something that, at this moment, will come as an inconvenient truth. It isn’t meant to distract from the issue at hand but is meant to be a reminder of what is possible–although not in this situation–and what is probable for some black women in regard to suicide.

As many disagree with Sandra’s death being ruled a suicide their rationale for doing so is dangerous. People have said that she would never commit suicide because she was happy, successful, a good person, a member of a Greek organization, on her way to a new job, etc. The problem with this is it paints an incomplete portrait of people who actually do commit suicide. (I am saying “actually do” to distinguish what happens to some black women and people who commit suicide, in general, from what happened to Sandra Bland in particular, she DID NOT commit suicide.) The profile of people who actually do commit suicide varies and it includes those who were seemingly happy, successful, and good people. Black women do commit suicide, we aren’t immune to taking our own life. Sometimes the life we live is burdensome, we wear the world on our shoulders and that burden and the world crush us to the point where taking our lives seems like a better idea than continuing with life. This was some woman’s truth who actually did take her life and this may be the truth of a woman contemplating suicide at this moment.

Furthermore, as black women and black men continue to watch black lives being taken with impunity and we suffer from the trauma of repeatedly watching these scenarios, I fear that it is more likely that we, as a community, will have to come to grips with mental health and wellness, some of which may cause depression, suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide, and committed suicide. I say all of this to say that we must be careful about how we talk about suicide and its victims. It is not just for non-black women, or unhappy black women, or unsuccessful black women. Suicide happens in our community though Sandra Bland did not commit suicide. We know that in Sandra’s situation, suicide is unlikely because of the details surrounding her last few days of life, including the newly released information that she attempted to post bail a few hours before her death.

Sandra Bland is yet another victim of a corrupt, cruel, and unjust system. Sandra Bland, like every victim before her, deserves our attention and best efforts to fight justice. But as we respond to the erroneous claims that Sandra committed suicide, we also have to measure the words about who commits suicide and why carefully. But as I stated earlier, this is not meant to distract from the very real situation at hand, the loss of another black life. So this leads us back to where we started.

Why is dead and why do we have to keep using social media to get our questions answered?