Yes, I am Sandra Bland!
I did something I shouldn’t have. In fact, I thought long and hard about doing it. But then, against my better judgment, I did it.
I frigging listened to Sandra Bland. No, I’m not talking about the video when she was originally and falsely kidnapped and imprisoned. It was the other video with her voice—the one where she left the voicemail for her friend.
That was my undoing. For some reason, I was compelled to hear this woman’s voice. I wanted to hear Sandra Bland. What I heard was a type of despair and disbelief and how she was kidnapped by the state and held against her will all under the guise of safety and security (or as some like to think—as part of the exercise in law & order sanctioned by the state).
Before listening to Sandra Bland’s voice, I had an inkling of what I might hear. Why? Because I know what it’s like to come under the scrutiny of those who take an oath to serve and protect but tend to either forget or misconstrue or reinterpret what it means to serve and protect people of color.
You see, I am Sandra Bland. That’s how I knew what I would hear in Sandra Bland’s voice.
For those of you unaware of what happened to Sandra Bland, here’s a brief recap.
Bland, while driving in Waller County, Texas, was pulled over and subsequently arrested and jailed for a failure to signal a lane change. Bland, as is her Constitutional right, challenged the Officer when he insisted that she extinguish her cigarette and exit the car. Keep in mind that the officer threatened to “light her up.” She was eventually charged with assaulting an office and a bond of $5, 000 was issued . Three days later Bland was found unresponsive (dead) and the claim was made that she committed suicide.
The difference between Sandra Bland and I is that I’ve (thus far) lived to tell my stories. I’ll share my most recent one
October 2013, my husband and I got all dolled up for an outing. We were going to see the Harlem Gospel Choir. Can I tell you, I was so excited I could burst. Not many gospel choirs come through our area on a regular. The air was starting to cool, but it was a beautiful early fall Saturday evening. He was wearing what my daughter and I jokingly call his “dressy” Kangol. He was clean-shaven and looking rather dapper. I can remember it like it was yesterday.
As I was driving we are just chatting along. Then we merged from I246 to 195 and we hit a traffic jam. We were bumper to bumper. At some point we came to a complete stop. And then it happened. We were rear-ended. He put his hand across my body we simultaneously asked, “are you okay?”
After we realized that we are both un-harmed. I started moaning about how we were going to miss the concert. I jumped out my car, raced to the back and encountered the White male that had hit us. I asked him, “Are you alright?”
“Yes. Are you?” he replied and asked.
I responded and then looked at my car. Minor damage (but it was my brand new car). I got his insurance information and his cell number and told him that we could deal with it all later.
As I was about to get into my car the state troopers pulled up along side us. At this time, I’m thinking darn, now we are really going to miss the concert.
The younger of the two, the driver, exited the car. At this time my husband was already sitting in the passenger side of my car. I walked to the back of the car with the trooper. He asked, with what seemed like genuine concern, if I was ok. I said yes. He looked at my car and said, “Oh, this is minor damage. Under $500 so there is no need to report it.” I once again went to jump back into my car. At this time, I looked at the other state trooper, an older White male, and noticed that he was peering into my car.
Before I could fully get into my car the younger trooper said to me, “Please pull over in front of us”. At this point I was very confused. Why would he ask us to pull over if he just told me that there was minor damage and we could go on?
As soon as I put the car in park in front of the state troopers I noticed that the White male who had rare-ended us was leaving. I said to my husband, “did you just see that?” At that point, I was starting to get annoyed. I knew that something wasn’t right.
We sit there waiting for him to return my license. He returns, but this time, he comes to the passenger side of the car. My husband tenses up. I see his jaw clench. To the average person, this slight movement is undetectable. But I’ve known this man for a long time. I’ve also been in the car with him when he’s been pulled over and the trooper tells him “because I can”. My heart rate increases. I’m simultaneously scared and angry.
“Sir do you have ID on you? We just need it for our records.” For the slightest of moments he hesitates (you can read his story here). Then he reaches for his wallet and rather calmly hands over his license.
In that moment something inside of me died. There was nothing that he or I could do to protect each other and ourselves. We were at the complete mercy of those who vow to serve and protect.
They let us go, probably never to think of us again. For me, it wasn’t that easy. The damage had been done. For the longest time I avoided driving on that stretch of road. I still tense up whenever a see a trooper (although I know that I’m not committing any infractions). My heart rate increases and then I get angry that I feel this way. That I feel so vulnerable. No matter how “good” I am, no matter how I follow societal rules, I could still become a suspect and treated as such. I know that the Constitution does not protect me and just like Sandra Bland, I could be accused of “assaulting a police officer” and thrown in jail. A good education doesn’t protect. My christianity doesn’t protect. The fact that I don’t have a “criminal” background doesn’t protect me. My gender doesn’t protect. Nothing protects me because I am a Black woman. As I write this post, the range of emotions is overwhelming. I can literally feel my blood pressure rising, my heart rate increasing, the tears stinging my eyes.
The next time this happens will we be allowed to leave? I try not to let this thought overwhelm me. But I’m a Black woman living in a state thought of as the third worst state for Blacks. I’m a Black woman married to a Black man who gets randomly stopped by the police. I’m a Black woman who has male and female cousins. I’m a Black mother. I’m a Black other-mother. I’m Black!
So the likelihood of this happening again is real. It is not some figment of my imagination.
Then it happened to Sandra Bland and the emotions and experiences I’d buried and worked really hard to overcome came rushing back. I remembered the time when I lived in Maryland and the trooper followed me, taunting me, waiting for a response. After he followed me for a while and I didn’t respond he pulled up along side me and followed me for a few more miles. Again, waiting for me to respond. I remember how frightened I felt. I remember how alone I felt. I remember thinking I should call the police and then realizing he is the police. I remember thinking I should go off to find a safe spot, but then thinking what if he followed me? I remember how tense I felt, how scared I felt, how angry I felt. I remembered that experience and so many more.
Sandra Bland made me remember. I remembered how I felt after I went to the State Trooper’s headquarters asking for the police report (after all they ran our names for the record), so I wanted the record. I got there only to be treated with suspicion. But I left there with the trooper recognizing and admitting (ever so quietly) that what I experienced was real.
Sandra Bland made me remember the pain that results not only from my experiences, but the experiences of so many others. She made me remember the type of pain that rest at a cellular level.
So when I dared listen to her voice, I knew what I would hear. I would hear disbelief, hopelessness, despair, a sense of being lost. I would hear how a system systematically erases Black women’s (and other people of color) humanity in the name of law and order.
So yes, I am Sandra Bland. The only difference is that I’m here to tell my story although a piece of me died that night when we were rare-ended. Sandra Bland made me remember the pain of dying.