News outlets have been flooded with articles, debates, and videos about the death of Sandra Bland–and with good reason. If you haven’t been following this harrowing story, Sandra Bland was a black, female civil rights activist who was found dead in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas after being arrested a few days prior. Today, Bland was laid to rest, but for her family, followers, and sympathizers, she is not yet at peace. What’s more, some fear she will never be at peace, that we will never know the truth, and that nothing about police tactics and training will change.
I really tried to think of a different title to this piece other than “The Heartbreaking Story of Sandra Bland,” but I honestly couldn’t think of one that better suits her story. Perhaps the “Enraging Story of Sandra Bland” or the “Unshocking Story of Sandra Bland” might have also fit. What happened to Bland is heartbreaking and enraging, but at the same time, Americans are not that surprised by what happened to her. Maybe that sounds fucked up, but the truth remains that U.S. police officers have killed nearly 400 people this year–and it’s only July. Americans have become very used to use of excessive force by police officers. Some even justify the use of excessive force in cases where it is obvious that it was not needed, resulted in death, or was racially motivated. With trigger-happy cops on police forces in the U.S., it’s no wonder that Bland’s arrest is speculative and her death calls for a federal investigation.
Bland’s story is a small snapshot of a bigger picture in which people of color are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned. Her story is also part of a macrocosm in which people of color are more likely to be shot and killed by the police than any other race, even if they are unarmed. When you see these statistics, it’s no wonder that the black and activist communities don’t trust the police when they claim Bland committed suicide in her jail cell. Add to this the problems with the dashcam footage released by Waller County Police and Bland’s very strange mugshot, and you’ve got some pretty good reasons to not believe a word Waller County Police say about Bland’s arrest and death.
And you know what? It’s good that certain people are asking the U.S. government to dig deeper into Bland’s case. If people don’t demand answers, and they take what police have to say at face value, then the checks and balances promised to U.S. citizens are useless. Unfortunately, previous cases, like the case of the shooting death of Michael Brown, have shown many people that justice is not always served. That begs the question: can the system really provide an accurate inquiry into the death of Sandra Bland?
I don’t want to lose all hope, and that’s the honest truth. But the odds are stacked in favor of the power elite–and that includes cops. To many in power, indictment of a police officer could mean indictment of the judicial system itself. That indictment of the judicial system could transmute into political and social unrest, not just in isolated communities like Ferguson, but in Everytown, U.S.A. And when the power structure feels threatened, any admission of guilt from any one of its members is seen as a weakness that cannot be afforded, including putting police officers on trial for murder.
What’s so sad and strange about police being part of the power elite is that they are working-class individuals. They work to uphold a power structure that oppresses them, that keeps their wages low, that cuts their benefits, that reduces their pensions, and effectively makes police work one of the most unappealing professions all in exchange for a little executive power. If the revolution comes, it will be interesting to see if the police side with and protect their oppressors, or realize their oppression and join the oppressed.
In the meantime, Americans are left with case after case that looks shockingly similar to Sandra Bland’s. We are left with no indictments for officers whose actions should have never taken place, whose records are smudged with claims of racist policing, and whose accountability is completely revoked to save face in the context of American democracy. While it is yet to be seen whether anyone involved in the arrest or death of Sandra Bland will see any consequences, previous attempts at such justice has made many feel like there’s little-to-no chance. When those who serve justice only serve their own sense of personal justice, we are left with the heartbreaking story of Sandra Bland. And Eric Garner. And Michael Brown. And every person who has felt the power structure hit back with a deadly blow.
Photo by Scott Davidson