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I'm trying to understand. I and so many in this country are trying to understand why and how Sandra Bland died. How did a beautiful 28 year old that had just landed her dream job as a summer programming associate for her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, end up hanging from a jail cell? I want to know, why does another Black mother have, as Sandra Bland's mother said, "a baby to put into the ground"?
Here's what we know. Sandra Bland was pulled over for switching lanes without a signal. We know that she was threatened by the arresting Texas trooper, Brian T. Encinia, with the words, "I will light you up." We know that Bland was slammed to the ground and that she told Encinia that she had epilepsy, to which he responded, "good." She said that she could not feel her arms. We know that she was arrested and taken into jail on Saturday, where she tried to make bail, but didn't have the necessary $500. She died that following Monday.
Black bodies are over-policed. Interactions with the police disproportionately end fatally. Yet we've still to fully break down why being Black, even in its most innocuous and mundane of states–walking, driving, switching lanes–is a threat. It's because we are not having a much more important conversation about White supremacy, and how Blackness, Black skin, Black people will always be considered threats when whiteness is priveleged. Sandra Bland should have never been stopped. It's not against the law to question the police (Bland asked why she was being arrested 14 times). It's not against the law to film the police. It's not against the law to demand to be treated with dignity.
The experience of Black womanhood is varied, deep and a missing component in this national conversation about police brutality. Zora Neale Hurston wrote, "If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say that you enjoyed it." Below are the narratives and thoughts of five Black women who loudly reject that silence.
Listen to these narratives. Say her name. Say their names. Say Sandra Bland's name.
Losing Tobias [Mackey to police brutality], it broke my heart. He was murdered, but murdered by the people who were supposed to protect him. During my brother's trial Matthew [Tate, the police officer that killed Tobias] said he that if he had to do it all over again, he would. There's no remorse, because he thought that my brother had a gun. You need to nine shots to realize that? We're not getting justice. We're getting lawsuit money, but that is not the same as justice. It's not even their money; it's taxpayer's money.
People say that we should just go on, but you can't. I still cry. I still hurt. Unless you've been through this, you have no idea. You just never get over and we shouldn't. Her [Sandra Bland's] family probably won't get justice and this is the reality. The day that he died, they killed me too. I had to learn how to live again. Every day, I'm learning to be a productive member of society. I don't trust the police. I don't call the police.
Last week I was pulled over. I work the overnight shift and was getting tired so I decided to venture on a new route. When I realized that the sirens and close proximity of the police wagon were for me, I pulled over perplexed, trying to figure out what I'd done wrong. The white male officer approaches my window, asks for my license and registration which I hand over, still intently replaying the events leading up to that moment. Had I run a stop sign? Oh dear god, did I hit someone? He interrupts my thinking to gruffly ask me, Hey, are you mad at me? Completely baffled I respond with: what? To which he repeats: are you mad at me? I greeted you nicely and you haven't offered me a smile. You seem like you're mad at me.
I had to take a real deep breath. I wasn't even thinking about him. I was thinking about all the other black people who had been at this crossroad. That moment before the white male police officers decide to flex their presumed power.
And in that minute I had to make a decision and it was an easy one. I was too damn tired for all of this. So I held up my hospital ID badge and simply said, I worked third shift.
Seemingly satisfied he went on to share, It just seems like people are always mad at me these days.
It turns out I forgot to put my plate sticker on. And that's what warranted pulling me over in a police wagon while his partner stood guard on the passenger side of my car. But I was to be concerned with his level of comfort, right?
As a result of this and many other racially charged arrests and deaths I am fearful. At first it was subconscious but I've realized within this last week actually that my heart races whenever a cop even looks at me. I can just be walking by but perhaps they won't like the way I'm walking or my attire and I could be the one on the ground.
Just last week I was stopped by the NYPD at my usual subway station that I enter every morning carrying the same purse I've been carrying to work since my mom gave it to me for Christmas. The cops are usually there every morning but last week they decided to stop me. On the day that I decided to wear a fitted baseball cap and not-so-feminine clothing. While many White women breezed on by carrying larger bags and purses than I did, I couldn't help but wonder if I was being stereotyped. Of course I was!
I rolled my eyes at the officer because I couldn't believe he stopped me. What were the grounds for his suspicion? My "urban" wear? Did I look like I may have a weapon in my bag? I just didn't get it. After he quickly looked through my bag and let me go I felt a sense of relief, but why? I did nothing wrong and I knew I had nothing but an Amy's organic gluten-free frozen meal in my bag and my Apple computer. I then realized that I'm afraid of the possibility of an officer physically harming me just because of the color of my skin.
To say that it's mentally draining would be an understatement. It's a combination of that and being mad as hell. These things are happening so quickly and so frequently there's not enough time to process feelings, thoughts and emotions. The other day I had a conversation with an artist whose work deals with value and it dawned on me recently after having the police drive behind me for a few blocks this week that the body that I inhabit has no value in this country. They aren't seeing that I am a business owner who employs people who live locally, that we all pay taxes, that I have been referred to as a pillar in the community etc., To see value in me would mean you would have to acknowledge my story first but on first sight these things are not present and what they do acknowledge (my body, my skin) has no value.
What makes this idea even more frustrating is that once you're murdered they erase your life in the media (history): Who you are, the things that made you a respectable citizen in society, the things that make you human. I hate that when we see these hash tags that we can not mourn the loss of someone that didn't deserve what happened. Instead we have to defend the life, moral and character of these women and men. So yeah, I'm mad but not defeated and not giving up. The best way I know how to honor the lives of those slain to police terrorism is to continue to live, continue to thrive, continue to be active in the spaces we exist in, and to come up with ways where we are the authors of our own history.
I've been fighting police brutality for over 10 years. The Oakland PD, Alameda sheriffs and San Francisco PD arrested over 100 Justice for Oscar Grant protesters in Oakland and I was among them. After being arrested and placed in a holding cell with 30 other mostly Black women we all realized we were brutalized by the same white woman sheriff. The sheriff did not frisk us like she was supposed to but slowly rubbed her hands all over our breasts and hips then sharply rammed her stiffened hand hard against our vaginas! So it would be this creepy sexual violation and then pain. It was an awful feeling and it was sexual assault. We were so in shock, we didn't realize it at the time. So we named her Nice Nice Nasty. She did it to everyone in the holding cell and probably to women in cells across from us. Now every time I am patted down, in the airport or a concert, I feel taken back to that painful place. It was trauma.
That's part of it...she didn't leave any bruises except mentally. And often Black women's pain goes unacknowledged. But we still fight. We are fighting even while we are traumatized. In being part of this fight, it has been mostly the mothers and the victims that are on the front lines. In the past they're not the ones that speak, but Black Lives Matter has changed that. Black women have always been in the movement and have done most of the work but now we're visible and being unapologetic about it. It forces this society to acknowledge us and we're going to be everywhere and anywhere that we feel oppression is.
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