Sandra Bland is a name I hope you know of. Often, police brutality cases do not reach legitimate justice or resolution, but Sandra’s in particular left so many questions then, and now. In July 2015, Sandra was pulled over by the police for a traffic stop that turned violent. You can research Sandra’s death and read about what happened; this space and my words aren’t dedicated for that. I do want to highlight that Sandra’s story has affected change in many ways. Whilst Sandra was being accosted by the police, someone nearby had started recording. As seen in the footage, her last words were thanking this person for recording, and highlighted the importance of it. She had always urged her followers to look to younger generations for change and to use their smartphones to record any injustices they saw. I am sure Sandra helped more people than herself in that moment, and I like to think she helped a lot more people realise the importance of being a bystander. Whilst the police force are more likely favoured in court, I do see now that it is very hard to not see video footage of police brutality in real time. Whilst this can sometimes be trauma porn and deeply triggering for me to watch (which I don’t anymore), I do separate my personal feelings from this, and can appreciate how much this can help in the long run. In these cases, defence attorneys can more easily pressure police departments for body cam footage, if there’s multiple videos circulating on social media. We can be happy about that, whilst also protecting our peace.
Sandra was robbed of many things, the very day she was pulled over she was there for an interview at her alma matter Prairie View A&M University. She regularly spoke about police brutality and how to navigate being a black person in America. These were called ‘Sandy Speaks’. It becomes very poignant to me now, looking back at these videos with all of her helpful advice and her always referring to us ‘Kings and Queens’.
I wish I knew about your powerful voice before you left us Sandy, but you leave us with a legacy, and I find comfort in that.
I am happy to see that the university that she not only studied at, but was also was about to start her career at, have honoured her legacy. There is now a Sandra Bland Social Justice Scholarship Fund, which aims to celebrate her life and acknowledge her courage, tenacious spirit and determination to be a social change agent. I know that she will inspire future generations with her words, as long as we keep her name alive.
She arrived at this university on a music scholarship, where she played the trombone in the school’s Marching Storm band. A member of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, Sandra graduated in 2009 with a degree in animal science. One of Sandra’s childhood friends, Stephen Nox, wrote an article about Sandra and I wanted to share some of his words:
“Others see a noncomplier. I saw church lock-ins, Six Flags trips and Brunswick Zone parties. I saw choir rehearsals, praise reports and prayer requests, McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches on Sunday morning in between services, and a puppy love moment she had at the playground with one of my former YMCA basketball teammates at Lee’s graduation party.”
I loved reading about Sandra and her thirst for life, and it shouldn’t have taken me so long to find that on the internet. Which makes me think about how we can digest media without thought.
If you have ever read about Sandra’s arrest and her death, you will see a lot of conspiracy theories and unsolicited opinions about what happened to her. There is a photo in particular that was circulated without any real thought to Sandra’s family, and how these theories might upset them. I do understand the feeling of unspoken hysteria when a police brutality case is thrusted into the spotlight. It feels like it has almost become a competition to quickly create info graphics and digestible information snippets to be shared on social media to create a conversation and raise awareness. Whilst I do see some value to this, I do also see the harm in circulating information without much detailed research taking place. I also share some of these posts in an effort to raise awareness and do appreciate them, but sometimes it can have a negative impact that we might not realise. To discuss on social media if Sandra was murdered and had her eyes taped open in a mug shot by the police, is irresponsible and inhumane.
Hear this from Sandra’s sister, Shante Needham.
“The biggest thing we hope to dispel is the conversation around the mug shot photo. It was really difficult seeing these doctored photos and people taking the position that she was already dead, so I think it’s important for us to call it out and say that was completely unfounded. That’s where the blessing and curse of social media comes in, with there being this circulation of misinformation.”
I want to echo Shante’s statement, as Sandra’s family should have autonomy in voicing what they feel. Hearing how her family felt really made me pause and think about how we are sharing and circulating information in the name of awareness. I hope this resonates with you also.
We will never forget you Sandy, I am eternally grateful for all you have done, and continue to do for us. #sayhername
Sandra Bland: Art by Spray Their Name artists Thomas “Detour” Evans, Hiero Veiga, Cya Jonae and Giovannie aka “Just”