Sandra Bland was outspoken about police brutality and racial injustice
There are a lot of unanswered questions about the 28-year-old woman who was found dead in a Texas jail cell on Monday, but a few things are clear: Sandra was a Black woman, she liked smiling for the camera, and speaking out against police brutality and racial inequality in the U.S.
Bland drove to Texas from Chicago last Thursday to interview for a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M. She was pulled over in Waller County, TX, just northwest of Houston, for a routine traffic violation.
A bystander captured footage of Bland’s arrest, but only after the initial exchange. The video begins with the trooper pinning Bland to the ground on the side of the road. Bland, exasperated, says to the officer: “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that?”
Bland was arrested for “assault of a public servant.” She was found dead in her cell about 9 a.m. Monday, ”not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation," according to a statement from the Waller County Sheriff's Office released on Tuesday.
A Waller County spokesman could not provide additional information on the cause of the method of asphyxiation, but did say they Bland did not use her shoelaces or her blanket to kill herself.
Authorities who performed an autopsy confirmed her cause of death as suicide by hanging.
Family and friends are outraged. According to a press release issued by a law firm, “The family of Sandra Bland is confident that she was killed and did not commit suicide. The family has retained counsel to investigate Sandy’s death.”
(It is unclear whether Bland had a history of mental illness. AL DÍA reached out to some of Bland’s relatives but did not receive a response back in time.)
Other testimonies have already come forward. An online campaign is being built around the hashtags #WhatHappenedToSandraBland and #JusticeForSandy, calling for a federal investigation of Weller County police. One source reports that Texas State Troopers were called in for the initial investigation.
A media outlet focusing on Black Greek life obtained the following statement from Alana Taylor. Bland was a member of the Delta Alpha Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. at her alma mater; she and Taylor were line sisters.
“Sandra Bland is my line sister. Her personality and outlook on life alone DOES NOT resemble uncertainty or depression. She was a strong force that took life head on. Suicide would be the LAST thing on her mind as she was on the brink of starting a new chapter of life: a new job, a strong cause to fight for and a thick network of support. There are just too many discrepancies and holes in the official report. As far as her friends, chapter, alma mater and family are concerned: Sandy is still speaking and somebody is gonna listen. #SandySpeaks”
Bland regularly posted on her Facebook page about police brutality and racial inequality.
Her profile picture, uploaded on June 27 (right after the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage), shows this text against a blank background: “Now legalize being Black in America.”
The banner image for Bland’s public page is a cartoon rendering of two men in the back of a police car. The one on the left is an unhandcuffed white man — presumably Charleston shooter Dylann Roof — eating a sandwich. On the right sits a bloody and bruised Black man with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Bland also made posts about the media portrayal of race and violence.
She even flaunted the criticism she received for her vocal video posts using the hashtag #SandraSpeaks.
More than 140 people have killed themselves in Texas jails since 2009, the Houston Chronicle reported. Routine mental health inspections are required by the state, but not always enforced.
Waller County's jail, about 50 miles northwest of downtown Houston, holds roughly 110 people. Bland's suicide is the first to happen there in three years, several media outlets are reporting.