Weekend Open Thread: The Murder (or at Least Negligent Homicide) of Sandra Bland



Sandra Bland

I was going to write about how I didn’t know why I was more affected by the death of Sandra Bland in prison than some of the other killings of Black Americans over the past year that have infuriated me but not felt like a punch in the stomach, but who am I kidding.  I know exactly  why.  It is a matter of social class.  Her life matters just the same as the other Black Lives that matter in this year of #BlackLivesMatter — no more or less a tragedy than the deaths of Eric Garner or Michael Brown or Walter Scott or so many others — but many of us may feel it more deeply: she looks like one of us.  She looks like some of the bright eyed, well-coiffed and accessorized, big smiling young women that I knew in law school at the turn of the century.  It hits home.  It crosses a line that, in these years of murder of the dark and unarmed, generally hasn’t been crossed.

Her killing — and even if it was a suicide after three days in jail, if her captors had squeezed all the hope out of her over that time that’s still just what it was, because that is not how the system is supposed to work and not likely how it would have worked had she been white — is no more unjust or appalling than the others in her category.  It just feels that way to me, because I can’t consider her the “other” as I might some of this year’s victims.  That tendency to “other” then is not something that I can or would defend intellectually — Eric Garner’s Black life mattered just as much as Sandra Bland’s, and as a matter of cognition and logic I know that.  But this isn’t about cognition or logic; it’s about feeling.  It’s about emotion, about desperation, about shock.

I’m not the least proud that this one hits me harder than others, perhaps because I can see someone like my daughters in those bright eyes.  If anything, I’m slightly ashamed of it, because I know very well that as a matter of public policy it doesn’t matter that she was a college graduate, that she came down from Naperville, Illinois to seek (and accept — then lose, because she is dead) a job at the historically Black college of Texas Prairie View A&M.  All lives are equally precious, in the sense that all are supposed to be equal before the law.  But LOOK at her.  This one really hurts, at least for me.

Maybe you don’t feel it the same way. That’s OK.  It’s all pretty subjective, I realize.  But maybe, if you have spent a fair amount of time on racially diverse college campuses, seeing the best minds and hearts of the younger generations take wing and provide hope that maybe things in our culture can get better over time, maybe you feel it too.  Or maybe you weren’t going to feel it as any different from the rest, as aimed at your heart as well, but now you will because I brought it up.  If people die “for a reason,” as Clementa Pinckney and those who died with him seem (whether it is in any broader sense true) to have done, that the death of Sandra Blunt may be intended by the Great Dealer Out of Cards as the slap upside the head that is supposed to get your attention.

Or maybe for you it was the 12-year-old boy in Cleveland.  Or the Marine in our own South County.  Or the old and accomplished women at that Charleston church.  On the kid who was left to languish for over a year in a New York prison, lost in processing and never even brought to trial.  (I wonder if that young man’s horror was going through her mind, if she did kill herself.  It would be hard to blame her for dwelling on it.)  There’s no right answer as to what and which should jar you.  It’s not a matter of your thoughts or your values, but only of how you are somehow led to feel.

Do you even know about this? Our Facebook-dominated discourse has become so fragmented that I really don’t know whether your information feed, like mine, is pulsating with the horror of this event — or whether your news of the world left you unaware of it.

If so, here are some recaps, from Slate and the Washington Post.

She was pulled over for improperly signaling a lane-change on a Friday afternoon.

“A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper pulled Bland over Friday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. near Prairie View A&M after changing lanes without signaling, according to Trooper Erik Burse, a spokesman for the Public Safety Department. The trooper ordered her out of the car because she was argumentative and uncooperative, he said, adding that she was about to be issued a written warning when she kicked the trooper who had pulled her over. At that point, she was arrested and charged with assault on a public servant.”

The Sheriffs said that she was “combative.” We will likely never know.

Her arrest was videoed by a brave — and let’s underscore that “brave” — and (as you can see by the end, circumspect) bystander.

She complained of the police repeatedly bashing her head into the ground. She said that she couldn’t hear.

(Note: possibly relevant to the question of why she committed suicide? Answer: of course it is.)

Waller County is predominately white.

Its Sheriff, Glenn Smith, was fired from a previous job in 2008 after he and members of his department were accused of racial bias and brutality.)

She was held in custody for three days.

“She was held, alone, in one of the two holding facilities for women at the county jail. Smith says Bland was fed breakfast at 7 a.m. and spoke to the jail staff about making a phone call an hour later before she was found dead.”

She was found asphyxiated at around 9 a.m. on Monday morning, a trash bag around her neck.

She never got to see that Pluto is marked with a huge heart.

Maybe she hanged herself and maybe she didn’t.

“Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, said she spoke to Bland over the weekend and “there was no indication that Bland was in an emotional state where she would harm herself,” according to the Chicago Tribune. In a March Facebook video, Bland said she suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Needham also said that she was “very aggravated” and that she thought she had broken her arm.

Sheriff Glenn Smith said, at a press conference yesterday, “Black lives matter to Glenn Smith. I can assure you of that.”

Now, many of her friends and relatives, along with a growing group of social-justice activists, are questioning how authorities say Bland died — and the circumstances surrounding the arrest that put her behind bars three days earlier.”

“The Waller County Jail is trying to rule her death a suicide and Sandy would not have taken her own life,” one friend told the ABC affiliate in Chicago. “Sandy was strong. Strong mentally and spiritually.”

“At a news conference in Chicago, Bland’s sister told reporters on Thursday that she couldn’t believe Bland would take her own life.”

“’Based on the Sandy that I knew, that’s unfathomable to me,’ Sharon Cooper said, according to the Chicago Tribune.”

Was it a murder, a cover-up, or a protest?

If it was a protest — was that so unreasonable?

This story keeps getting written. Because this keeps on happening.

This is your Weekend Open Thread. Talk about this, or about whatever else you have in mind, within reasonable bounds of discretion and decorum.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)