If you’re somewhat active on social media, you’ve probably seen #SandraBland appear in your feed over the past few days. While the name and hashtag continue to trend, not too many people are fully aware of the story behind it.
Unfortunately, the story concerns the suspicious death of yet another African-American. This time the person is Sandra Bland, who was found asphyxiated in a Texas jail cell on Monday morning from what is being called a suicide. But according to those close to Bland, who had recently left her hometown of Naperville, Illinois, for a new job at her alma mater, the 28-year-old wasn’t suicidal. In fact, many are saying she was happy and excited to be starting a new chapter in her life.
So, what really happened? And where does this leave us in the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement? Here’s what we know.
Why was Sandra Bland arrested in the first place?
Last Friday, July 10, Bland was driving through Waller County, Texas, when she was pulled over for failing to signal before changing lanes. What should have been a routine traffic stop with a written warning turned into an arrest, when Bland was charged with assaulting a public servant after allegedly kicking an officer. After an alleged struggle, Bland was transported to the local jail where she called her family and told them what had happened. Video obtained from the stop and arrest does not show Bland fighting back but does show two officers on top of her. On the video Bland can be heard saying, “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear.”
What happened in her jail cell?
By Monday morning, the day of her death, Bland was still in jail. Bland ate breakfast in her cell and around 8 a.m. spoke with the officers on duty. An hour later according to the Sheriff’s Office, a female officer found Bland, “not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation.” CPR was administered but failed and Bland’s body was transported to the local coroner’s for an autopsy. On Tuesday, the coroner ruled Bland’s death a suicide by self-asphyxiation/hanging.
What new facts have come to light?
Many. Here’s a comprehensive list:
Possible video evidence: A video purporting to show Sandra’s arrest has surfaced, though the person who filmed it was told to stop doing so. In the video, Bland can be heard saying, “You slammed my head into the ground, do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear,” and that she can’t feel her arm. The video also shows that one of the officer’s knees was pushed into her neck.
Medical help was offered: Following complaints that she was in pain (Bland suspected that her arm might be broken or fractured), a paramedic team was called to the scene of the arrest, but Bland reportedly refused treatment.
She attempted to post bail: According to the Daily Beast, Bland reached out to a local bail bondsman who then contacted her mother to secure the $500 needed for bail.
Sandra Bland was an outspoken activist: Bland was not shy about her support of the Black Lives Matter movement and was very vocal about the issues black people face on social media. She often posted videos on the subject.
She had struggled with depression: In one video posted in March, Bland related her struggle with “a little bit of depression as well as [post-traumatic stress disorder].” Still, family and friends saw no evidence that she was recently suffering or that suicide had become an option.
There’s now an online petition: This week, a resident of Baltimore — where the suspicious death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in April 2015 sparked tension-filled protests — launched an online petition calling for a Department of Justice investigation into the death of Sandra Bland. “The circumstances surrounding her death are at best unclear,” says the petition. “And given known facts, very disturbing.” So far, the petition has garnered more than 64,000 of the 75,000 signatures needed to merit a response from the government.
The FBI is now involved: As of yesterday, July 16, the FBI (along with the Texas Rangers) has launched its own investigation into the death of Sandra Bland. Their investigation is supported by Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis, who told reporters, “If I receive information that there’s something nefarious going on, or foul play, we will certainly get to the bottom of that.”
The country sheriff has been accused of racism: Increased scrutiny has also turned up evidence that in 2008 Waller County sheriff R. Glenn Smith was fired from his job as police chief of Hempstead, Texas, after locals (38.9% of whom are black) accused him of racism. Later, incriminating videos surfaced to support their claims. In a statement issued this week, Sheriff Smith assured the public that for him, black lives do matter.
Social media is driving the movement: This developing story can be followed through the hashtags #JusticeForSandy, #WhatHappenedToSandraBland, #SayHerName, and #SandySpeaks, which was inspired by Bland’s series of videos by the same title.
This isn’t the first alleged suicide to occur in this particular jail: According to Daily Kos reporter Shaun King, there have been at least four other suicides in the Waller County Jail.
Why does this matter?
First and foremost, we need to understand how a routine traffic arrest led to a woman’s death. We need to.
Additionally, many in the Black Lives Matter movement have highlighted the fact that black women who die when police are involved often don’t garner the same kind of attention or outrage as black men who die under the same circumstances. In this case, Sandra Bland is being afforded the same dignity as prominent victims of police brutality like Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, and Eric Garner (who was murdered by police one year ago today).
Where do we go from here?
If the aforementioned petition goes through, then it may encourage newly minted U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to place this case on the docket of the Department of Justice, which can use its endless resources to get to the bottom of this case.
We will continue to follow this story.
[Image via Twitter]