Since Wednesday, there has been increased speculation around Sandra Bland’s mugshot photo. Specifically, questions have been mounting as to the conditions under which Bland’s photo was taken. The questions that emerged include but are not limited to:

Her attire

Mug shots are often taken at the time of booking while those in custody are still in the clothing they wore upon arrival. Why was Bland, in this photo, wearing an orange outfit provided by the jail and not the striped maxi dress we all know she was wearing based on the dashcam footage?

Lying Down, Not Standing Up

Concern has been raised about her position at the time the photo was taken. Based on shadows around Bland’s face that go to her right and not down and the direction of her hair (back toward her neck instead of down and in front of her face), it appears that Bland is not standing. People have also pointed out the curious situation of being able to see into her nostrils, suggesting the photo was taken over her.

Her eyes

People have been raising concern about how Bland’s eyes look “dead” in the photo. Some have noted the color of one eye. Others have noted the inability to clarify because of lack of access to high resolution photo. But much of this gains further urgency when we remember the fact that Bland had epilepsy. She told Officer Encinia this during the encounter as she narrated that he was slamming her head to the ground, only for him to respond “Good. Good.” We know that she demanded EMS during the transcript and was denied it. It is illegal to deny someone medical treatment in custody, one of the reasons for the charges against officers in Baltimore for the death of Freddie Gray. Could Sandra Bland have suffered a trauma to her head that was not accounted for out of, what has only emerged, as systematic negligence for her wellbeing?

The fact that we have to ask these kinds of questions feels like conspiracy theory. And yet, with each new detail, it’s hard not to feel like these kinds of theories aren’t warranted.

What was initially called a suicide is now being treated as a murder investigation. We know that the video footage has discrepancies that show looping and editing. We know that the (re)released “unaltered” second version of video footage was shorter than the original. We know there are inconsistencies in the booking documents around her history of suicide and the medication she was taking for her epilepsy. We know that Bland’s family received a text that warrants questions about the quality of her initial autopsy, specifically that the assistant district attorney in Waller County has called the autopsy “defective.”

None of this makes any sense. Every new leak brings to bear the boundless ways Sandra Bland’s death has been systematically constructed to defy rational.

For all the ways this seems like conspiracy theory, it’s because all evidence seems to point to a widespread cover up from start to finish.

In 1940, W.E.B. DuBois wrote, when defining race, “Perhaps it is wrong to speak of it [race] as a ‘a concept’ rather than as a group of contradictory forces, facts and tendencies.” Seventy-five years later and his statement continues to ring true.

Today, the paradox is being propagated by a leak that the autopsy shows Bland had marijuana in her system.

We’ve seen this tactic before, where in the cases of black people who die at the hands of police brutality, drugs and other substances magically come up as a mainstream media red herring to perpetuate a “blame the victim” narrative.

We saw this with Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. As police conspire, so too are so many news outlets who are supposed to be giving us “unbiased” coverage of what is going on.

The fact of the matter is that all answers at this point to #WhatHappenedToSandraBland have been elusive. And if we want justice for her, we have to find those answers.

But this means we’re going to ask about everything and anything. We’re diving into a rabbit hole that, according to information that is available, knows no ends. If speculating about the implausible means relying on conspiracy theory, fine. But know that the conspiracy we’re meticulously interrogating is inextricably linked to a system stacked against us, and if we want to stay alive, we have to hold that system accountable — because it doesn’t seem like anyone else will.

Want more content like this? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter below.