Today is the one-year anniversary of Sandra Bland’s death and millions of people are saying her name across the country, if not the world.
The 28-year-old was pulled over on July 10, 2015, by now-fired state trooper Brian Encinia for failing to signal a lane change. A dashcam video showed tensions escalated after he ordered her to put out a cigarette, which led to her arrest for assaulting a public servant. Three days later, Bland died in Waller County Jail and her death was ruled as a suicide. Bland’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Waller County Jail and Encinia. A trial is currently scheduled for January 23.
In the year since Sandra Bland’s arrest and death, one thing Black people can be certain about is that our lives still don’t matter.
Her anniversary comes in the wake of numerous, growing protests for the police-involved deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this past week. It has been a particularly stressful time, reminding us that the circumstances we questioned surrounding Bland’s death one year ago, are the same circumstances we’re still questioning today.
Erica Thurman, 36, writer/consultant for Life Behind the Veil, says that when no one faced consequences in the murder of Sandra Bland, she knew things would get worse before they got better. “Folks are getting tired of mourning senseless deaths and perpetrators are getting more brazen,” Thurman says. Adding that she felt anger after Alton Sterling’s death last week. “But hearing of Philando’s murder less than 24 hours later paralyzed me. I tried to go to work three times on Thursday but broke down three times, and it took about three days to process that what I was feeling was sadness, fatigue and disbelief with just how blatant the public murders are in our society.”
Another certainty is that the recent cases of police brutality have further divided the relationship between the Black community and police officers. Tevin Lanier, 25, a film director and mentor, couldn’t agree more. “I have grown very cautious and scared of the police, more than I have ever felt in my life,” he told the Defender. “It has become instilled in me to not even make myself noticeable, I basically play invisible when the police are around because I don’t want to be next.”
Lanier added that every Black woman in America has the potential of being the next Sandra Bland, which is why “everyone is just as worried about their mothers and sisters. I talk to people about this problem often, and to resolve this issue is going to take some work.”
One of the issues that continues to be brought up is how some members of law enforcement already have preconceived notions about Black people, so they’ve already profiled people before going on duty. Another issue is that many officers today are working in communities that they do not live in—a very stark contrast to how things used to be. If they actually knew members of the community they were sworn to “protect and serve,” they would be much more effective at policing it.
That relationship could be started by hosting events with free food and drinks, according to Shanae Mitchell, a 26-year-old sales representative at Inbound. “They would get to know everyone—the children, elders and even the homeless,” she says. “Do PAL centers still exist? We had one in my neighborhood and I felt comfortable around those officers. They knew the neighborhood kids and were better to and for the neighborhood.”
Building that relationship would certainly help because Black people are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Tired of the senseless murders of our brothers and sisters—at least 136 of whom have been killed this year alone by police officers, according to The Guardian. Granted, we know that this isn’t anything new. We know it’s been happening for centuries. Yet, the only thing that allows so much light to be shed today is technology. Not that it’s even making a difference in trials as evidence.
Thurman says the culture of policing is one of the most difficult to change. Something she knows firsthand having worked in the field of sexual assault and domestic violence. “You’re talking about a deeply embedded culture of power, control and privilege. Often generations of it in the same families in the same line of work. Those who haven’t seen, likely won’t see that Black Lives Matter. The change will come with accountability. You don’t think Black Lives Matter? Fine. But accountability will mean that you can’t just take those lives without losing your job, AND going to jail.”
Moving forward as a people, Thurman added that we must recognize that the current state of our nation doesn’t rest on the shoulders of the oppressed. “Understand that unless folks with privilege and power speak up and act to change the current state of affairs, we’ll likely be having this same conversation in a year,” she said. “But as my dear brother Jesse said, “What’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.””
Both Lanier and Mitchell both agreed that stressing the importance of education in our communities is crucial to our growth as a people. Along with respecting each other as well as the Black dollar, and creating more Black-owned businesses to employ our own. “Black people make hair shops and corner stores profitable businesses, yet how many are actually owned by Black people? A lot of people are calling for a boycott but without any black-owned alternatives, I don’t see how it can succeed. We have to keep the Black dollar in our community longer—it currently lasts just six hours but lasts 28 days in Asian communities and 19 in Jewish,” Mitchell says.
“If we start boycotting all of these establishments the government will see how important we are to the economy. Once they see businesses are failing, they will attempt to eradicate some of the issues we have, thus bringing about some changes,” Lanier added.
At the end of the day, Black people want justice. We want equality and fair treatment. We want to get home safely walking back from a convenience store. We want to start the new job that we know is going to be a great opportunity. We want to let our child play fearlessly in the park, with their toy gun: because they are a child. We want to be able to comply to an officer and not be shot and killed because they feel threatened due to preconceived notions. Most importantly, we want to believe that red, white and blue not only means freedom but life when it’s flashing in our rear-view mirrors.
We want to be seen as human beings. So when we say Black Lives Matter, know that we’re just saying that our lives are important, too.
We want acknowledgement, just like everyone else. Just like you.