It was five years ago, summer 2015, that Sandra Bland, driving while black, was wantonly pulled over by police very close to her home. In the dimness of our prevailing sadness, the malevolent passing of one young American woman in a Texas jail cell stands out in its grim narrative. Sandra Bland, in her consuming desperation and misfortune, must never be forgotten–especially in this summer of racial reckoning.
We will never know everything about the inflamed pull-over, arrest, and detention of 28 year-old Ms. Bland in Hempstead, TX on July 12 and 13. But thanks to modern media, including police dashboard video and postmodern forensic technology, we may know more about her untimely demise than we will ever know about the death of President John F. Kennedy.
In her consuming desperation and misfortune, she was a tortured paradigm.
And what we know is disturbing, unnerving, damning to our notion of an enlightened society. It is tragically retroactive to the Southern Jim Crow legacy: white deputies (some of whom donned the Klan sheets at night) were freely driven by their cultural adrenaline to subjugate and subdue black men and women with impunity and a sense of racialist, even sexual supremacy.
An armed, hot-blooded white police officer, pulling over a black woman for failing to signal when changing lanes. The woman smoking a cigarette in the privacy of her vehicle. The woman speaking impertinently to the officer when he demands she put out her cigarette. The policeman turning suddenly infuriated and incensed when the woman questions his right to make such a request.
The officer, empowered by his gun belt and uniform, reaching in and physically pulling the unarmed woman out of her car. “I will light you up!” he screams—threatening a Taser electrode blast.
There is nothing about this that wasn’t racially charged and not underwritten by the current national trend toward the Jim Crow dehumanization of our African American neighbors and brethren. It’s hard to bear—just as the Trump-driven marginalization of the entire Muslim community is painful to ingest.
“Wow,” uttered Sandra Bland—speaking for the anonymous millions of black women and men who have historically been the dazed victims of police overreach and civilian violence in this country for centuries—notably now in this incongruous and brutish 21st century.
Ms. Bland, who asphyxiated and hung herself in a police cell within 36 hours of failing to use her turn signal while changing lanes, was surely sarcastic, unbelieving, aghast, and afraid—there in the open streets of America’s new, skewed public judicial reality. But mostly, she was ensnared, overpowered, helpless, humiliated, and shamelessly diminished in a classic manifestation of deep Dixie bio-heritage.
Was she depressed? Maybe—but that’s no excuse with which to rationalize the total evacuation of her inalienable rights to protection, intervention, and basic human decency while in police possession for her alleged crime. The whole episode is a paradigm of this world of dread and hate.
Meanwhile, innumerable black women, regardless of their mood tendencies or personal medical histories, finding themselves abruptly and inexplicably imprisoned by the law enforcement culture, have historically chosen the same quick route out of their horrifying predicament.
Not all of them, like Sandra Bland, had just moved to Texas from Chicago to begin a new life. Few of them had just filled with their refrigerators (as Bland reportedly did) with fresh groceries before suddenly being corralled and handcuffed by a white constable unable to contain his tribal spleen.
“Wow,” says the voice from the grave, as Jim Crow walks by under the shade of Southern oaks, sipping a mint julep and blinking amidst the fireflies of a deepening American night.
‘Wow,” we do seem to be saying now: enough is enough.