On December 22, a Texas grand jury failed to return an indictment in the death of Sandra Bland just five months after her alleged suicide in a Waller County jail cell.
Let that sink in.
Just three days prior to her arrest, Bland was alive and well. Her mother has since described her demeanor as “lifted” because “she was excited about the next chapter in her life.” Indeed, a celebration is, naturally, an appropriate response after being hired — and by one’s alma mater nonetheless.
Soon, though, that joy quickly turned to mystery. One that has left us all pondering how this could have ever happened — again. It is not completely shocking in and of itself, for we’ve weathered the anguish of other hashtags this year and in years prior. The results, however, are continuously unsettling because, once again, justice evades us.
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands,
with liberty and
justice for all”
We were all taught these words as mere adolescents, and we bound ourselves blindly to their ingrained ideals of liberty and justice for all. These words were reaffirmed regularly as we recited the Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis in classrooms throughout America. Bland said them too.
We all did.
Yet, as in years’ prior, 2015 has proven to be equally hard on the collective psyche of Black America
Video after video, death upon death, injustice piled upon injustice, and hashtag widely spread after hashtag — all of these phenomena remind us of one unsettling truth: that this is, unfortunately, the new normal. Not, of course, the atrocities committed against us by the very entities that were created to protect us. In fact, the notion that policing is a largely feared practice by communities of color is neither new nor novel. Rather, the fact that these atrocities continue to receive slaps on the wrist — even as their videotaped proof recount their horrors in vivid detail — is new. Still, somehow these incidents are followed by willfully forgiving dialogues of mental illness, victim blaming, and egregiously mismatched officer portrayals that contest the very truths we see replayed on videotape.
On the very day that Sandra Bland was taken into custody, she was captured on footage retrieved from the dashcam of Trooper Brian Encinia’s patrol vehicle. “If you would’ve just listened…” he relents in an overly-moralizing tone. Bland responded to Trooper Encinia by insisting that she could not wait to take him to court several times. She was resolute, and even indignant, throughout her tense encounter with Encinia. We now know that the cause of Bland’s stop was nothing more than a mere lane switch, which is weirdly mismatched with the use of force and orders to exit her vehicle that soon followed. Bland knew this too, and she was looking forward to her day in court to prove it.
A few days later, however, she was found hanging in her jail cell. The corollaries that followed this discovery have since evaded sound reason. Toxicology results stated that she had a “remarkably high level” of THC concentrated in her blood, which is impossible for someone with restricted access due to their status as an inmate in the county jail. Likewise, the released dashcam footage from Encinia’s vehicle appears heavily edited as breaks in the video show both a car and a civilian disappearing and then reappearing in disjointed frames.
Furthermore, footage released by Waller County in attempt to quell our disbeliefs further compounded them with additional uncertainties: On the morning of her death, Bland told a fellow inmate that she was “fine,” and at 7:17 a.m. an officer checked in on her. Then, a gap in the footage occurs between 7:18 and 7:24 a.m., with another large lapse occurring between 7:34 and 9:07 a.m., at which time Bland’s body was discovered.
All of this exists. Yet, nothing. Five jurors pondered over this very same evidence and returned zero indictments in the Sandra Bland case.
So, here we are, ending the year with yet another hashtag that is seemingly lost in the fray amongst many others. Likewise, the families of Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Samuel Dubose, Laquan McDonald, the Charleston Nine and Tamir Rice (to name a few) are still either waiting for or completely bereft of justice as the year nears its end.
Our transient state of mourning now feels increasingly permanent with every new hashtag created. Indeed, one consideration of it all is that these deaths have not happened without meaning — they forced us to take a deeper look at ourselves and at these institutions. Social media and our ability to quickly share and collectively mobilize forced everyone, including Presidential candidates, mayors of major cities, and entire police departments alike, to form an official response to our plights. But what will come of it all?
As we enter the new year, I hope we all awaken to the odd truths that have all too easily become commonplace in our post-racial, ultra-modern society… because there isn’t much stopping any one of us from becoming #JustAnotherHashtag.