The peculiar circumstances surrounding the death of Sandra Bland while in the custody of the Waller County Texas jail, continues to become more and more troubling. The case of the African American female who was found hanged in her jail cell three days after being arrested for failing to signal a lane change should shock the conscious of any person with an ounce of humanity or sense of justice. To be pulled over by law enforcement for an alleged traffic violation and end up hanging dead from a trash bag in a jail cell, doesn’t pass the smell test and brings into focus the very real hazards of “driving while black” in America. It’s difficult if not impossible to imagine such a scenario developing under similar circumstances involving a white woman.
The facts surrounding Ms. Bland’s death raise numerous questions regarding the police officer’s conduct and her treatment at the Waller County jail:
Why was she arrested for failing to put out a cigarette?
Why did the take down and handcuffing of Bland take place off camera?
Why was she still in jail three days after her arrest?
Why was a large trash bag, strong enough to support her body in her jail cell?
Why was Bland not closely monitored after allegedly indicating previous bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts?
Sandra Bland’s untimely and needless death which smacks of murder, gives poetic resonance to the reality of what African American’s feel and live with on a daily basis. At the risk of stating the obvious, black people throughout the history of America have been constantly reminded of the racial disparity in every phase of the American criminal justice system. From disproportionate traffic stops, arrests, convictions, and sentencings, to untimely deaths at the hands of white police officers, it has been historically and statistically proven that black lives and freedom are worth far less than that of white folk. The current mantra recently adopted by white politicians like Hilary Clinton and others that “Black Lives Matter” is in and of itself an indictment of the American criminal justice system, which results in the overwhelmingly disproportionate killing and incarceration of African Americans at the hands of police, prosecutors and judges.
The very statement that black lives matter underscores the absurdity of the question implicit in the statement. Black lives have never mattered with respect to the relative and comparable worth of white people. The devaluation of black lives is rooted and steeped in history, where in the U.S. Constitution the Negro is only referenced as property measuring 3/5 of a person. The relative worthlessness of black life and liberty is further reinforced in early Supreme Court cases such as Scott v. Sanford (1857) wherein Justice Taney articulated the legal and social reality that the Negro had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” This historical pronouncement had grave social and political implications for the Negro at the time it was made, and still reverberates through the consciousness of every white person and every institution, that undergirds a system of government and laws that dispenses justice and opportunity in a way that is fundamentally separate and unequal.
With the advent and increasing use of policy body cameras, cell phone video recording, and other modern technologies, the viewing public has become increasingly aware of the almost daily incidents of murder and injustice against African Americans that heretofore went unnoticed, undocumented and unprosecuted. The harsh realities and dangers of being black in America are now on display for the world to see and can no longer be hidden by police cover ups and political sleight of hand. Do we really need more investigations and statistics to corroborate the continuing disregard of black life at the hands of law enforcement? The tragic case of Sandra Bland is neither new nor novel in the centuries’ old institutionalized devaluation of black life and liberty in America. Unfortunately it is only one of the more recent examples that have shockingly come to light. The evidence is clear, convincing and unmitigated. In the United States of America black lives have never mattered to the extent and relative comparison to those of whites. The only legitimate question that continues to go unanswered is: What is America willing to do about it?
Gerald Torrence is a lawyer, educator, writer, social and political activist, and motivational speaker living in Atlanta. You can find more insightful opinions from TheTruthTeller at the-truth-teller.com. You can follow Gerald on Twitter @tttspokentruth.