Five years after Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas, America finds itself at a crossroads. In the wake of intense violence nationwide and a President who emboldens this type of violence, we must decide now if we are going to allow systemic violence against marginalized communities to become part of the status quo, or are we going to make a change.
In spite of the countless injustices that have transpired since her death, it is impossible not to be haunted by Sandra’s story — not just for the sheer scope of its tragedy, but also for how regular she was. Sandra could have been any one of us.
Five years later, racial tensions have only grown progressively worse in America. On this day, it’s important to reflect on the lessons we learned from Sandra, whose light and legacy can never be dimmed.
Here is what Sandra has taught us:
You Can Control Your Legacy
Too often, Black victims of police brutality end up facing a trial in the public eye. Mainstream media often depicts them as somehow deserving of the horrendous treatment they received. But Sandra’s commitment to documenting her life meant that she was empowered to leave her own legacy and tell her own story beyond her death. Her vlog, #SandySpeaks, gave us all the chance to get to know how she lived rather than just how she died. She could not be erased.
Furthermore, her family’s activism beyond her death has left a profound impact on today’s civil rights movement. The tragedy they experienced spurned them into action. And those actions are proof of the impact she had on their lives.
Respectability Politics Won’t Save Us
Black people are often told that what they wear, how they speak, and what they do can somehow save them from racism. It is one of the great myths of modern society. It’s hard to think of a more “respectable” person than Sandra. She was an educated, accomplished, beautiful woman. She was getting ready to begin a new career. She had a promising future. And still, she died in police custody under extremely mysterious circumstances.
According to a recent report in the The Guardian, “based on the latest national figures available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 4,980 prisoners in US correctional facilities died in 2014, a nearly 3% increase from 2013. In addition, in state prisons, the mortality rate was 275 for every 100,000 people, the highest since data collection began in 2001.”
We have to stop holding Black people to standards that we believe will save us in a system that is failing to protect us. Trayvon Martin did not die because of his hoodie. Alton Sterling didn’t die because of his previous issues with the law. Education and career choice couldn’t save Sandra or Philando Castile. They were victims of a racist system that needs to be changed.
It’s Not Only Black Men Who Are In Danger
The #SayHerName movement has been around for some time, but it was Sandra’s death, along with female victims like Korryn Gaines, Natasha McKenna, Rekia Boyd, and Kindra Chapman that thrust it into the national dialogue.
But if Sandra is proof of anything, it’s that we have a long way to go. Were it not for social media and the tireless efforts of her family, we may never have known her name. It’s not hard to imagine just how many female victims remain ghosts in the public persona. Black women are one of the world’s most marginalized populations and we can no longer operate under the illusion that just because we aren’t hearing about it, it’s not happening.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty