Last year, the nation erupted in outrage after numerous accounts of Black men dying at the hands of police officers. We watched and mourned as the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray proved that systemic racism is still alive and thriving.
But this all changed slightly on July 10, 2015, when Sandra Bland was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas, for failing to signal a lane change. The dash camera from the arresting officer showed the 28-year-old and Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia engaged in an argument.
During the confrontation, Encinia instructs Bland to put out her cigarette, to which she refuses. Encinia then appears to threaten Bland by saying, “I will light you up.” This is where Bland exits the vehicle and the two walk out of frame.
According to Encinia, Bland physically assaulted him after she left her vehicle so he arrested her and took her to Waller County Jail. After being booked, Bland could not pay the $500 bond, so she remained in custody.
Three days after her arrest, Bland was found dead in her cell. It was determined by the coroner that she died by hanging herself with a trash bag; however, this news sparked a new kind of national outrage.
This fury was somewhat different than that of Brown, Garner or Gray because to many, her death was a total mystery. As details and discrepancies surrounding her arrest came out, the nation cast doubt on the suicide narrative being told.
Her death not only called for change when it comes to police brutality, but it also sparked national debate about the transparency of the jailing system. After videos of Bland in jail became public and more questions were raised surrounding her death, pressure was put on the Texas Legislature to reform jail policies.
Legislation has been discussed to change several areas of the jailing process. Some changes in talks are an increase in the training of jail staff to identify mental illness, a reformation of the bail bond system and reformation of minor offenses that can lead to jail time.
The shaky details surrounding her suicide have also forced many to look at the amount of deaths occurring in local jails. Since the death of Sandra Bland, over 800 people have died while in jail. Almost half of those deaths occurred within the first three days after the arrest was made. Although these numbers are staggering, many of the deaths that occur in jails have gone unreported. And because Black people are more likely to be taken to jail, they are more likely to die in jail
What does this mean?
There is a giant issue in the entire judicial system, starting with the moment an arrest is made. In the state of Texas, it is perfectly legal to go to jail for failing to signal a lane change and other inconsequential, minor offenses. This is where most of the problem lies. The accounts surrounding Bland’s arrest don’t seem to add up to her being put in jail. Sure the arresting officer said she assaulted him, but Bland also was heard in a witness video saying that the officer slammed her to the ground.
Bland’s death caused national debates and theories as to what happened to her and, throughout all of it, we remembered to #SayHerName. Because many of the deaths by the hands of police officers go unnoticed and unreported on a national level, it was imperative that we speak of Bland and what she represented for the community.
Her death was a tragedy and a giant question mark that loomed over all of us. Through the perseverance to keep her alive in our conversations, it appears that changes will be made in Texas legislation regarding the jailing system.
As the anniversary of her death approached, a vigil was held in her honor at Chicago’s Federal Plaza. Hundreds gathered to pray and mourn the death of Bland.
Throughout this entire unstable and difficult year, we have learned that the controversial killings of Black men and women cannot be in vain. When we #SayHerName, we say all of their names and remember that through protest, debate and discussion we can incite the change that this country needs.
(Photo: Sandra Bland via Facebook)