Moral Low Ground


#BlackLivesMatter Activist Sandra Bland Dies in Texas Jail Overseen by Sheriff Fired for Racism

Sandra Bland (Facebook)

Sandra Bland (Facebook)

A young black Chicagoland woman pulled over by police for failing to signal a lane change died Monday in a Texas jail overseen by a sheriff fired from his previous job for racism.

Last Friday, 28-year-old Sandra Bland, an outspoken member of the #BlackLivesMatter anti-racism movement, was driving home to Naperville, Illinois after attending a job interview at her alma mater, Texas Prairie View A&M, when she was stopped by police in Prairie View, about 50 miles (80km) northwest of Houston, for failure to signal a lane change. According to a police statement, Bland became “argumentative and uncooperative” and was arrested on a charge of assaulting a public servant.

“She was smoking when he pulled her over,” friend LaVaughn Mosely told KHOU. “[The officer] told her to put her cigarette out, she had an exchange of words and it just went downhill. She said he snatched her out of the window and slammed her on her face.”

Bystander video apparently showing Bland’s arrest has been posted on Facebook and YouTube. In it, law enforcement officers are seen handcuffing the woman, who is lying on the ground.

“You just slammed my head into the ground! Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear! You slammed me into the ground and everything,” an incredulous Bland is heard saying as she is handcuffed.

According to a statement from Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith, who was suspended and then fired from his previous job as police chief in Hempstead, Texas after repeated and documented accusations of racism, Bland was “found in her cell not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation” on Monday morning. “CPR was immediately started and Waller County EMS notified. She was pronounced deceased a short time later.”

“It appears she had used a trash bag to hang herself from a partition in the ceiling, which was used to give inmates privacy,” said Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis.

Bland’s family and friends say it is inconceivable that she would kill herself. They said she was excited about starting a new job and new life in Texas.

“I talked to her Friday and she was in good spirits,” Mosely told KHOU. “Although she was incarcerated she was in good spirits. She was looking forward to posting bond Saturday and getting out. So you don’t go from that to hanging yourself.”

“I do suspect there was foul play, and I believe that we all are 100 percent in belief that she did not do harm to herself,” friend Cheryl Nanton is quoted by Democracy Now!

The FBI and Texas Rangers are investigating Bland’s death.

Bland was a vocal member of the #BlackLivesMatter movement against racism and police brutality. She produced a series of videos titled “Sandy Speaks” in which she discussed racism and social justice.

“She was a very, very accomplished young lady,” Rev. James Miller, pastor at DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle, Illinois, said of Bland. “I just hope that the investigation is very comprehensive,” Miller told the Chicago Tribune.

Bland’s family and friends are wondering how she could end up dead after a routine traffic stop.

“How did a traffic violation end in death? What happened in that jail?” Bland’s friend LaNitra Dean said to the Huffington Post. “What happened in that jail? That’s on everyone’s mind.”

Mathis, the Waller County district attorney, said he had no reason to believe Bland’s death was anything other than suicide.

“If I receive information that there’s something nefarious going on, or foul play, we will certainly get to the bottom of that,” Mathis told the Chicago Tribune. “I understand there’s some disbelief among some friends and family that she would do this to herself. That’s why it’s very important that the Texas Rangers be allowed to conduct a thorough investigation.”

On Thursday, attention was drawn to Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith’s history of racism. In 2007, Smith, then Hempstead police chief, was suspended for two weeks, placed on probation for six months and ordered to undergo anger management counseling after he and four of his white officers were accused of strip-searching and humiliating young black males during a drug raid which found no evidence of illegal activity. In March 2008, Smith was fired from his job as police chief after persistent complaints of racism.

As attention focused on Smith, WLS reported on Thursday that Bland had posted an online video five months ago claiming she was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I’m suffering from something that some of you all may be dealing with right now. It’s a little bit of depression as well as PTSD,” Bland says in the video.

“That is, of course, extremely relevant that she may have been suffering from some sort of mental illness,” Mathis told WLS. “That self-diagnosis is certainly something that we are going to look at and consider with a motive for a suicide.”

The case has sparked widespread public outrage on social media, with the hashtags #JusticeForSandy, #SandyBland, #WhatHappenedToSandyBland and #BlackLivesMatter all trending on Thursday.

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