On Sunday, February 21, two Prairie View undergraduate students returned to campus with a shattered windshield after a Waller County deputy reportedly hurled his flashlight at the passing car. It is moments like these that we give thanks that those students returned to campus unscathed and that the vehicular assault by the officer did not result in a crash or injury for the students. According to the the report from KHOU’s Rucks Russell, the students had been driving back to campus after picking up food late Saturday night, when the inexplicable assault occurred.
As a different weekend began, 32 weeks ago, another member of the PVNation, Sandra Bland, was driving in the opposite direction, leaving campus to get food, when she was assaulted along the road by Brian Encinia, an Officer still on payroll with the Texas Department of Transportation.
It was not the first time an alum had experienced disrespect and would not be the last, as evidenced shortly after when the Honorable Jonathan Miller, Prairie View City Councilman, was assaulted just off Sandra Bland Parkway during homecoming.
As local alumni that were close to Sandra found those first days swallowed up in grief and confusion, the Waller County Jail was withholding the name of Sandra Bland even as Prairie View alumni protested outside of the jail in Hempstead on July 13th and amplified the cry on July 14th. Some have said that if someone had not captured the end of the arrest on their cell phone and released it to the press, then many people would never have known Sandra Bland’s name.
Those people, however, did not know Sandra’s family, nor the power of the PVNation, for before the video came out on Wednesday, one question had already been spreading among the Prairie View alumni: #WhatHappenedToSandraBland
When one of their own had fallen, PVNation spoke up.
The first time that I saw that particular combination of words – #WhatHappenedToSandraBland – was at 2:57 pm on Wednesday, July 15. Before the rest of the nation was aware that anything had happened down at the Waller County Jail, Sandra Bland’s friends were already out there on the afternoon of July 13th, demanding answers. My friend Jeremyah, who had been one of Sandra Bland’s classmates, began pelting my phone with text messages and phone calls, insistent that something was wrong and insistent that there needed to be a response. There may have been those who said that there was silence on the hill, but one thing was certain: PVNation was far from silent. By the time that news articles really began to come out, local alumni had already been working hard to chip away at people’s complacency and set the groundwork for what was to come. Like Sandra Bland’s family, they were doing this work even in the mist of their own grief and disbelief.
When one of their own had fallen, PVNation spoke up. In a crucial moment, they played their part.
Local friends of Sandra like Andre, Alexandra, LaNitra, King Ace and DeAnte spoke up in the alumni community and in the press. The amazing Phyllis Darden-Caldwell worked social media to keep the community abreast of developments. Graduates around the country amplified the call for justice. All four members of the Prairie View Productive Poets who had dominated the Prairie View scene while Sandra Bland was a student, Outspoken Bean, Nyne, Jeremyah “The Fluent One” Payne, and Trademark spoke up through their art form and demanded action from the The Shout community in Houston resulting in what became an 80 day vigil in front of the Waller County Jail.
Sandra’s Sigma Gamma Rho sorors, members of the Marching Storm, and friends came together within the first couple weeks to begin to plan how they could raise awareness about the #SandySpeaks videos that Sandra Bland had been filling their timelines with over the past several months before her death. It was on one of those early phonecalls with LaToya, Teri, Whitney and Aida that I heard a voice that spoke of action rooted in the very real conditions and safety and well-being of the current students themselves. I did not know who it was, but I said, “Whoever just spoke, I need your number.” It was Sandy’s soror and neophyte, LaToya Smith, who would remain focused on fighting for both the memory and legacy of Sandra Bland: the memory in demanding #JusticeForSandraBland, the legacy in fighting for the safety and well-being of the students and helping raise up “The Sandra Bland Social Justice Scholarship.”
It has not been an easy journey since then, and it would be disingenuous of me to say that the women and men who have spoken up most loudly and consistently for Sandra Bland have not faced opposition. Opposition that has sapped the little strength they sometimes had left.
Still, when one of their own had fallen, PVNation spoke up. In a crucial moment, they played their part. Let us not forget that.
What the alumni of Prairie View A&M will do next is something only they can answer.
What we do know is that this week there were two more students who went through a traumatic experience involving law enforcement as Ryann Harris said of the encounter with the Officer’s flashlight, “Right now I’m afraid to drive a little bit. I’ve been shaky.”
Only last week, Prairie View A&M senior, and Flint native, Mirissa Tucker said at the scene of Sandra’s arrest, “We’re afraid. People are afraid to drive on this street and be harassed. People are afraid if they drive on this street, will they be stopped? Will they be accosted? All of that. All of that goes into play and that affects our minds, how we study, how we get ready for the day. All of that goes into what we do here at Prairie View A&M University, and I just want people to know: we can do something to change that.”
There is one group of people that has the power more than any other group to do something in response to Mirissa’s words: the alumni of Prairie View A&M.
When one of their own had fallen, PVNation spoke up. In a crucial moment, they played their part. Let us not forget that. Neither let us think that we have heard the last of them.
*We are still working for Justice every single day, not only for Sandra Bland, but also for the students she was excited to come and serve. We are remaining vigilant to observe, watch, pray and act for justice in the criminal and civil courts, as well as continuing to demand a Department of Justice investigation, raising funds for “The Sandra Bland Social Justice Scholarship,” and supporting the local students and residents. Please go to SandySpeaksOn.com and get involved. As Sandra said, “I can’t do this alone. I need y’all’s help. I need you.”