Get ready to get uncomfortable.
One of the biggest privileges of having white skin is believing, knowing, that if you call the police they will feel more inclined to “protect and serve” you than not. The same is true of doctors–if the medical industry has a history of lying and using your people as guinea pigs, it would understandably be difficult to trust white coats. Of course media portrayals, general corruption, class, rural vs. urban, previous incarceration history, dis/enfranchisement and gender affect how everyone interacts with the police, but for white people as a whole the police are not a threat. On the contrary even when there is evidence that white people are breaking laws Black people are still the ones treated like suspects. #BlackLivesMatter but think about how many drunk/irate white men brandishing guns have been taken peacefully into police custody, compared to the number of unarmed Black people killed while behaving lawfully.
This piece explores how the justice system views Black women, here five Black women share their experiences with the police, read 60 more Black women’s stories here, listen to this spoken word piece about being a Black woman, here you can watch Black women speak out, and this is a good example of Black people’s realities. The disgusting truth of the matter is that any black person in America could have been Sandra Bland, and age, gender, disability, innocence or any combination of those don’t change that. The biggest lesson I’ve learned throughout the past year is that Black people rightly fear the police. Would more female police help???
White folks–we NEED to talk about our privilege and how our appropriation of other cultures is not only damaging but violent. Here are just a few things you need to know before we move forward so please take a moment. You should also read this, this and this before going any further. Also, here’s what would happen if someone who doesn’t look like me got in a cop’s face, and here’s what kids will be learning about our country’s racist history in school. Speaking of school you should really check out these two truth bombs. And if you’re (somehow) still questioning why anti-racism efforts *must* be integrated into feminism read this. If you need more resources on learning about racism there are more than 30 there. Finally, here is what one woman of color wants white allies to know. What I need from you is to share these truths as far and wide as you can, #SayHerName and the names of all of the people killed by police violence, regardless of color.
Last month we collectively mourned for the parishioners and families of the victims of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church assassination, but the burnings of Black churches around the nation have been the backdrop against which the taking of Black lives by the police has been set. And while superheroes like Bree Newsome are shining examples of the courage to which we all ought to aspire, the confederate flag still flies regularly in the face of people of color whose existence is challenged everyday merely for the color of their skin. There aren’t enough ways to explain how wrong all of this is. In the safety of my white skin I am shocked and saddened and appalled by my fellow man. Reading about the destruction of Black lives and Black souls all day, everyday is exhausting, but the torment I’m experiencing from bearing witness to these atrocious human rights violations is a sliver, a fraction of what Black people living in fear of being killed by the police or by any of the myriad other racist institutions in our country are forced to deal with throughout their lives. Since it is impossible for me to share the gravity and weight of their reality with them, to take on a just portion of their load, the absolute least I can do is bear witness to these truths, do my part to hold police accountable, and demand change.
While so much has been written since Sandra Bland was found dead, details have come forward about the deaths of many others in police custody: Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Kindra Chapman, Ralkina Jones, Joyce Curnell, Raynetta Turner, Jonathan Sanders, Rexdale Henry, Christina Tahhahwah and Sgt. James Brown to name a few. And while the US has an embarrassing maternal mortality rate pregnant women who are incarcerated face incredible obstacles whether they choose abortion or birth. Where is your outrage? Why aren’t we all taking to the streets everyday to demand a complete and total overhaul of the Injustice System as we know it? The headline of this story speaks volumes.
“In 2012, the latest year for which federal data is available, 73.2% of inmates who died in jail for any reason had not been convicted of a crime.”
So what do we know about Sandra Bland and her death? She was driving through Texas on her way to a new job at Prairie View A&M when a squad car pulled an abrupt U-turn and sped up behind her. She yielded to the police who then pulled her over for “failure to signal a lane change.” She lawfully refused to put out her cigarette after the officer asked her to. She was ordered to step out of her car, with no reason given. She exerted her rights but Officer Encinia (who was cited last year for “unprofessional conduct”) threatened to forcibly remove her. She said she was going to call her lawyer. Encinia told her he was going to “yank” her out of her car, reached in, and called for backup. Sandra Bland continued to assert her rights and question what reasoning he had for removing her from her car. Then he told her she was under arrest. He called for backup again, yelled at her to get out of the car and opened her door. He said, “I’m going to drag you out of here.” He then threatened to “light her up” with a taser. She got out of her car. He yelled at her to get off the phone, but she clarified that she was recording the situation, again asserting her rights. She put her phone down and he ordered her to turn around and put her hands behind her back. He said she was under arrest for “failure to obey a lawful order.” She gave him sass he definitely deserved saying, “You know this is straight bullshit.” He tried to justify his actions, “If you would’ve just listened” and handcuffed her. She said, “Oh I can’t wait ’til we go to court. Ooh I can’t wait. I cannot wait ’til we go to court. I can’t wait. Oh I can’t wait!”
The doctored dashcam video of her arrest continues for another 37 minutes and includes Bland being brutalized in a number of ways. You can read the transcript from it here. Bottom line: she should not have been arrested. After being taken to (racist) Waller County Jail, and trying to post bail, she was found dead three days later. The official cause of death was suicide, and marijuana was found in her system, but despite her history of depression and PTSD, a lot of things don’t add up. So much so, in fact, that Attorney General Lynch has spoken out and the FBI has joined the investigation. 28-year-old Sandra Bland was laid to rest on Saturday, July 25th, 2015.
So what can you do to combat racial injustice? Educate yourself. Sign this petition to stop the prosecution of a Black woman trying to get a job so she can feed her children. Speak out against the mistreatment of trans* folks, especially in police and immigration custody. Support your local Planned Parenthood and Reproductive Justice efforts in your community. Remember the history of race and slavery in our country. Take all seven steps Black Girl Dangerous spells out for you. Show Up for Racial Justice. Follow conversations on racism on social media with hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter #SayHerName #SandySpeaks #WhatHappenedToSandraBland and #IfIDieInPoliceCustody. Be an ally to trans* folks. Support just struggles everywhere. Donate to the Sandra Bland Legal Fund. Whether Sandra Bland did commit suicide or was killed at the hands of someone else while in police custody is basically irrelevant at this point. She is dead and the entire criminal “justice” system is guilty. Rest In Power Sandy.