Sandra Bland (1987-2015), an unarmed, suburban, middle-class Black American woman, died in police custody on July 13th 2015 – three days after a traffic stop.
The police say she hanged herself. Her family and friends do not believe that for a second.
On July 9th, she left suburban Chicago, where she grew up, to drive to Prairie View A&M University in Texas, where she went to university and where she was to start work doing student outreach.
On July 10th, after she arrived in Prairie View, Texas, the police stopped her for failing to signal while changing lanes.
The police said she became “combative”. They arrested her for “assault on a public servant.”
An eyewitness, her friend Malcom Jackson, said the police were forceful from the start:
“After he pulled her out of the car, [he] forced her and tossed her to the ground, knee to the neck, and arrested her.”
Citizen video shows her pinned the ground being arrested by two police officers. You can hear her say:
“You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear.”
You can also hear her saying “motherfucker”.
On July 13th, three days later, before her family could bail her out, she was found dead. Jailers, who are supposed to check on their prisoners at least once an hour, gave her breakfast at 7.00am, talked to her at 8.00am, and found her dead at 9.00am. The police said it was “self-inflicted asphyxiation.”
That very same jail also had a “hanging” in 2012.
Within those three days the police could have easily looked her up on Facebook and seen her video series #SandySpeaks, where she speaks about racism and – police violence.
On her Facebook page it said:
“Now legalize being Black in America.”
Her family wants to get an independent autopsy done.
Prairie View A&M is a part of the Texas A&M system. It was founded during Reconstruction and produces more Black architects than any place in the nation. It is where Mr T. and Terry Ellis of En Vogue went. It is over 90% Black in a town that is over 90% Black.
But it is in Waller county, which is 71% White, a place of small towns out in cotton country, north-west of Houston. And the power structure is racist:
- In 2007, Glenn Smith, now the county’s police chief but then the police chief of Hempstead, the county seat, was suspended without pay for two weeks and put on probation for six months for his “humiliation and mistreatment of young African American males.” That did not stop him and he was fired.
- In 2014, Elton Mathis, the county’s district attorney, was accused of texting, “My hounds ain’t even started yet dumb ass,” to Rev. Walter Pendleton. Pendleton had asked for information on prosecution rates by ethnicity in the county, saying that Mathis practised “selective prosecution”. Mathis: “You are too stupid to know what that word means.” Mathis stands by his words.
The police are investigating themselves. Mathis would be the one to prosecute them – or selectively not.
– Abagond, 2015.
Update (July 24th): The dashcam video was made public. In it, Brian Encinia, the arresting officer, abuses his power, threatening her with a taser (“I will light you up!”) to arrest her and, once she was already in handcuffs, apparently threw her to the ground (off screen).
There is also a jailhouse video of the hallway in front of her cell when they discover that she is dead.
The county is making bits of the autopsy public (why not the whole thing?). They are pushing hard, too hard, the idea it was a suicide. The family is getting their own autopsy done.
Some say that in the mugshot (pictured above) she was either dead or lying on the floor. She was arrested on Friday, called her family on Saturday, but not on Sunday as expected. She was found dead the following morning.
The Justice Department is “monitoring” the investigation.
Update (July 28th): The district attorney has appointed two lawyers to act as “outside” observers. They have the power to investigate and bring findings before the grand jury.
The medical examiner says that Sandra Bland had high levels of marijuana in her blood at the time of death – so high that she had to have taken it while in jail!
Her booking video has been released.
Update (December 22nd): The grand jury will charge no one for Sandra Bland’s death. They heard more than eight hours of evidence. Bland’s mother: “I simply can’t have faith in a system that’s not inclusive of my family.” Source: NBCBLK.
For yet more updates, go to the Sandra Bland update post.
- external links:
- other Sandra Bland posts
- respectability politics
- perfect victim
- The Black middle-class in America
- grand jury
- the police
- driving while Black
- The extremely incomplete list of unarmed Blacks killed by police