Sandra Bland: Fighting For Life, Both Hers & Yours

“Isn’t that what you are here for?!?” the white, female ABC reporter in front of us raged. She had watched from her SUV as those of us keeping vigil for Sandy Bland outside of Waller County Jail watched the video of Sandy’s arrest for the first time, huddled around one of our smart phones. It was a disturbing video; traumatic; infuriating; and we were visibly upset. The majority of those sitting in front of the County Jail were African American women close to Sandy’s age, similarly outspoken, and committed to the same ideals of justice that she was so vocal about in her #SandySpeaks videos. Over the course of the past seven days that we have sat in front of the scene of Sandy’s death, they have made it very clear: Sandy could have been any one of them.

Rushing out of her SUV and eager to capture the emotion, the reporter shoved a microphone in their faces saying, “You just watched the dash cam video didn’t you. What’s your reaction?” When they politely asked to be left alone and said they could not answer any questions right now, she badgered them aggressively. Finally, in my exhaustion, I said, “Fine, I’ll do an interview, please just understand that what we just watched is very painful and this is a traumatized space right now. Please will you speak to them in a more respectful manner.”

“What, don’t you want your message to get out? Isn’t that what you are here for?!?!” she raged.

My next words were clear: “I won’t be doing an interview with you,” I said as we all walked away and she continued to rage. I was shaking. I was shaking because it was not the first time that week she had treated us that way. I was shaking because in that moment she was giving embodiment to the very things we were fighting against: white indifference to the suffering of African Americans; the expectation and insistence of white people that our own comfort, feelings, and agendas will be prioritized over those of people of color even in moments that most impact people of color; and the inability to mourn the death of African Americans, compounded with the unwillingness to allow African Americans space to mourn without analysis.

White supremacy is not usually a man in a white hood; in fact, it hardly ever is. It is the way that we, as white people, daily occupy space in this country in a manner that demands and expects our needs, wants, comfort and feelings will be prioritized.

The dangerous implications of that reality are what we see playing out in the dashcam footage released on Tuesday: a man with authority becoming enraged that his feelings, comfort, and pride are not prioritized over the rights, safety and life of an African American woman.

The dynamic is all too similar to the arrangement upon which our nation was built: that black lives are less important than white comfort. That was what was taught by philosophers and theologians, and then spoon-fed to congregations by white pastors like myself who promoted a system of “Christian slave-holding” – a contradiction if there ever was one.

Now many white people are feeling the discomfort as we try to right the ship midstream. Our discomfort is necessary to right the scales on which their lives have been undervalued for so long.

This is what I would have said if I had given Jessica Willey of ABC an interview:

First, we are not sitting outside the Waller County Jail for the sake of the media. We are sitting out there for Sandra Bland. We are sitting out there because, as her mother said last night at the Memorial Service on the campus of Prairie View University, Sandy knew she had a purpose here in Texas. As her mother quoted her, “My purpose is to go back to Texas, my purpose is to stop all social injustice in the South.” That calling was so evident in her videos. Which is why, as we sat overwhelmed with the tragedy of her death a week ago, listening to the words of one of her #SandySpeaks videos, we could not ignore her call for assistance: “I need your help. I cannot do this alone.” We knew what we had to do. We had to go to the spot where her life had been taken and give her honor, sitting vigil for our sister in Christ so that the world will know that #SandySTILLSpeaks and cannot be silenced.

Second, what I see in this video is a woman fighting for her life from the minute she is pulled over. Fighting to live in a country in which she had rights, and in which her humanity was respected. Fighting to live in a place where you are able to assert your legal rights regardless of the color of your skin, and you do not have to genuflect to authority when that authority is misused and abused in order to save your own skin. In doing so, Sandra Bland was not just fighting for her own life, she was fighting for all of our lives. Fighting back against a system that says you have to treat police with respect even if they do not treat you with respect. Fighting against a system where the wounded male ego is cause for arrest. Fighting against a system where the voices of women are silenced, and the bodies of women are grasped without their permission.

On Monday, July 20, a week after Sandy’s death, District Attorney Elton Mathis said, “It was not a model person who was stopped.” To say I disagree could never be enough.

So I will continue to sit outside the Waller County Jail in vigil to let the community know that here was lost a life that deserves to be honored. I will continue to listen to #SandySpeaks and encourage you to do likewise.

I am confident that Sandra Bland did not kill herself. I have been confident from the second I heard her voice: the voice of a woman who unapologetically loved herself, others, and her God. That can be a difficult thing to be, however, when you live in a world that expects women like Sandy to apologize for their own greatness.

Rev. Hannah Bonner

St. John’s Downtown, Houston, Texas

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7 thoughts on “Sandra Bland: Fighting For Life, Both Hers & Yours”

  1. The media person who accosted and otherwise disrespected the individuals, black and white, should be written up. Her role is not to increase incendiary aspects of what happened to that young woman, but report the news in a respectful and tasteful manner. She did not. She should be FIRED.

  2. “the unwillingness to allow African Americans space to mourn without analysis.” For me, this is the telling moment of shame for America. We as whites are so quick to name what others must do and feel. We do it for any group that we deem “minority” as if white supersedes every other group. How dare we! As a woman, I understand to some degree. As a member of the LGBT community, I understand to a greater degree. But since I am not a member of the African-American community, I cannot ever fully understand. It is best that I honor those who do understand. The shame is when I do not. Thank you again, Hannah. Blessings, Bunnie Date: Wed, 22 Jul 2015 23:19:19 +0000 To: bryhan17@hotmail.com

    1. Ms. Bryant, thank you and bless you for your heartfelt, eloquent and understanding comment. I’ve been trying for the last few days to bring my white friends on home, trying to help them understand at least my pain. For some it works, for others, not so much. I’m hoping that your words help them open their eyes.

      1. I am one white person watching with tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat, and feelings of frustration and anger in my heart. Not knowing what I can do, I am hoping those who are taking action to protect their own civil rights — and the civil rights of all of us — bring about change, soon.

  3. Rev. Bonner, women all over the south are with you and trying to organize in their own way to bring light to the abuses of power in law enforcement. I’m curious why no one seems to be asking questions about the trash bags supposedly used, Im a woman and I’ve been incarcerated in a few different jails and I never had access to trash bags. Not in my cell and not at meal time. They (the guards) had one 55 gallon can that all inmates used at meals and was removed immediately after. If you were having your monthly you got one pad at a time and had to turn in the used one to get a fresh one which left you unprotected at the time. What about the other inmates?They would’ve heard/know something. Also no one seems to question of the strength of said bags, I think there is no way a trash bag from an institution that thrives by cutting corners on costs had trash bags strong enough to hold her weight and in such plenty that one wasn’t missed .

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