You’re the parent of a Black child in a country whose racist legacy continues to bleed. You tell your kid, “If you’re stopped by a white cop, be respectful. Don’t look for trouble. But don’t you let the man turn back the clock of history on you. Be proud of who you are.”
I’m White, so what do I know? But that’s the message I think I would give my Black son or daughter if I had one. I think that must have been the message Sandra Bland’s folks gave her as she grew up. Maybe she had it in mind as she moved near Houston, Texas to start her new job. And this is the result: dragged out of her car, pushed to the ground and arrested. With bail set at $5,000. The original charge? Failure to signal. After three days in a Waller County jail, Sandra is found hanged.
I have no opinion on the controversy swirling over a murder cover-up, or whether Sandra was suffering from depression. I don’t know enough, and the more I read about this story, the sadder I get. Then I saw the footage of the actual arrest.
The video begins with the end of a different traffic stop–the officer’s giving a warning to some Sophomore at the university. Very cheery. We don’t know the race of that student, but s/he was obviously playing by the officer’s rules.
The very next stop is Sandra. She’s Black. She’s from out of state. She’s annoyed at being stopped. And for whatever reason, Officer Brian Encinia escalates the situation into a power struggle. Watching the result is like watching a train wreck in slow-motion, except that train wrecks are accidental.
Classic tragedy always contains a grain of irony to bitter up the taste a little. Here’s that grain: this video from “Sandy Speaks,” Sandra Bland’s Facebook page, in which she addresses the reason #BlackLivesMatter is a slogan with meaning far more powerful than simply saying All Lives Matter.
I’m not calling Sandra Bland a hero, even if others are. What makes her story so horrifying to me is that she’s just trying to be a normal, strong, Black woman. And apparently in our country, “normal,” “strong” and “Black” are enough to get you violently arrested. What happened to Sandra does NOT happen to normal, strong White people.
“Sandy Speaks” is right. Until we’re ALL ready to stand on a corner holding up a sign that says Black Lives Matter, then, in this country, all lives do NOT matter equally. Consider this my sign.