By James Clingman
Sandra Bland is dead.
While many are concentrating on “how” she died, we must also face the reality of “why” she died. All of the circumstances surrounding her death notwithstanding, Sandra is still dead. I cannot help but think that along the three-day period from her arrest to her final moments in that lonely and frightening jail cell, there were opportunities to rescue her from such a horrible experience and tragic end.
This is not a rehash of all the conversations, utterances, conjecture, and theories put forth after Sandra died. Rather, this is a simple critique of what we all saw on video and heard from Sandra herself when she called someone to let them know her status, having received a $5,000 bond. To say the least, she was totally frustrated by the entire situation.
Why Sandra Bland died is also obviously connected to who played a role in her death, whether directly or indirectly. Where were the intervention points by which Sandra’s three-days of horror could have been stopped? Was there any way, leading up to her demise, for her to have survived?
She should have never been arrested in the first place, but after she was, what could have been done? My initial inquiry would be directed toward the person who shot the cellphone video, the one to whom the cop said, “You need to leave.” The bystander replied, “Is this public property?” That person obviously had enough backbone to refuse to leave and even question the officer’s order; but did he make any attempt to see what happened to Sandra after she was taken away while thanking him for recording the incident?
In such a small town, where I am sure the news of Sandra’s arrest got around pretty fast. I wonder if anyone at her new employer, Prairie View A&M University, knew about the incident on the day it took place. If someone did know, did they follow up to check on Sandra and make an effort to help her?
Surely, there are a couple of Black lawyers in Prairie View as well. I am not a lawyer, but I know there is something called “habeas corpus,” which directs a person, usually a prison warden or jailer, to produce the prisoner and justify the prisoner’s detention. If the prisoner argues successfully that the incarceration is in violation of a constitutional right, the court may order the prisoner’s release. Am I misinformed about that legality?
Finally, there was the $5,000 bond, which required a 10 percent payment – a measly $500 – for Sandra to be released. Does anyone believe that $500 was such an enormous amount of money that Black folks in Prairie View could not raise it to pay her bond? Even the full $5,000.00 could have been put up by a group of people until Sandra’s family was able to send or bring it to the court. Now we have to live with the fact that a major reason this young lady died is the lack of $500! Surely, her life was worth far more than that.
To have allowed her to stay in a cell for three days with no one checking on her from the outside, no one pursuing legal avenues to see and speak to her, no one willing to put up the miniscule bond for her release is embarrassing, irresponsible, and unconscionable.
We let Sandra down by failing to rescue her. Every photo I found of her contained a beautifully brilliant smile. The only ones in which she is not smiling were taken after she was arrested. We helped take her smile away.
Since mid-July, according to an article written by April V. Taylor on Kulture Kritic, five Black women have died in police custody. They should not be treated as mere conversational fodder for talk/news shows. We have a responsibility to be more proactive when these issues arise and not wait for our brothers and sisters to lose their lives before we act appropriately.
We may not like it and we may not agree with it, but Black folks are part of the “why” Sandra Bland met her demise. There are practical things that could and should have been done, not only by Black folks but by anyone interested in the fate of that young woman. We must admit that, learn from it, and act before other tragedies occur.
Now that Sandra Bland is dead, many are wringing their hands and saying, yet again, how outrageous this is, how they are fed up, how this must stop, and how things must change. A lot of good that’s doing for Sandra Bland now. We are always late when it comes to dealing with these kinds of issues. In this case, we were three days late and one sister’s life short.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, blackonomics.com. He is the author of Black Dollars Matter: Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense, which is available through his website; professionalpublishinghouse.com and Amazon Kindle eBooks.