Shante Needham (R) and Sharon Cooper (2nd R), sisters of Sandra Bland, and Bland’s mother Geneva Reed-Veal (L) attend the funeral in Illinois, July 25. Jim Young / Reuters
By Rashida Tlaib
Sandra Bland, only 28 years old, was one of five sisters who was a musician, loved to serve her community, a summer counselor and passionate about the #BlackLivesMatter movement. She headed to Texas for a new job that she was thrilled about, and family members even described her mood as “ecstatic.” Her sisters said that she was outgoing, truly filled with life and joy.
She was found hanging from her jail cell after she was arrested for a claimed assault of the officer who stopped her on an alleged traffic violation. Now, what you should know is that the officer was tailgating her and the reason she pulled to the side of the road in order to get out of his way. When she did that she didn’t use her turn signal and sadly that is the reason he pull her over. When Sandra asserts her right to know why she was being arrested. The officer then begins to threaten her, “I’m going to drag you out. I’m going to light you up.” He later slams her head to the ground while she cried out “you are doing all this for a traffic signal.”
Sandra was in jail for three days.
Although the medical examiner said it was suicide, too many unanswered questions arose to the point where it is now being investigated as a murder.
Her family is devastated and can’t fathom that she could take her life, especially because she was excited to start a new chapter in her life. Just like me and many other young American Muslims, she voiced strong opinions about police accountability, racism, and hate in America. There are strong suspicions by the #BlackLivesMatter movement that the arrest was illegal, she was a victim of a broken and corrupt police system, and she would not have ended her life in a jail cell. People knew her as an activist against a police system that is structurally racist, so undoubtedly, many fear that there was wrongdoing on the part of the police department.
Why should we all care about the circumstances of what happened to Sandra? Because this happened right here in our backyard. Not that many are surprised, but it is a story that is very similar to what we hear from El Salvador, with kidnappings of civilians, or from Mexico, where local police are behind the kidnapping of 43 young people. People today get pulled over and detained by police every day without reason or justification.
Sandra’s experience with the officer, the traffic stop, the arrest, and later her tragic death, should be an awakening that an overhaul of the way we police communities of color is desperately needed, because the current system is completely broken and killing people.
Editor’s note: Rashida Tlaib is the child of Palestinian immigrants. She lives in Detroit. Tlaib made history in 2008 becoming the first female Muslim woman elected to the Michigan House of Representatives and only second in the country. Tlaib currently works at the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice on the community benefits movement in Michigan.