Sandra Bland: Let’s Not Rob Her of Her Complete Humanity!

Sandra Bland: Let’s Not Rob Her of Her Complete Humanity!

Sandra Bland 2A friend shared the following article with me, and I had to engage the dialogue that this article should inspire. First of all, I want to thank ray (nise) cange for the courage to explore this perspective from a position of veracity and transparency, because it is not a popular position to take right now. Second, I would like to address all of my black brothers and sisters who are not trying to hear it, having already made up your mind that there is absolutely no way that Sandra Bland committed suicide. I understand how you feel, and my initial response was the same, but my proclivity toward attention to detail, and my knowledge of behavioral science, demanded that I examine things more closely.

I would also like to iterate that I am not suggesting that Sandra Bland took her own life. I am not sure that we will ever know the complete truth of what took place that day. Unfortunately, there is a bunch of erroneous evidence from both sides of the argument floating around the internet, which further exacerbate the nebulosity associated with this story. I will not engage any of the things I have heard on both sides, but I will simply say that we cannot believe everything that we hear and see on social media or the news media, no matter how bad we want to believe it in order to prove our point. What I can with great confidence is that she should have never been in police customer to begin with, so the culpability of law enforcement exists, regardless of the cause of death.

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One of the themes of the following article is that we should not rob Sandra Bland of her humanity, suggesting that when we label a person as not being the “type” that would commit suicide, we reduce the complexity of who they were in totality. We take into consideration their strength and tenacity, but we avoid acknowledging their struggles and fears. We don’t want to consider the possibility of them breaking under the pressure of the moment, because their  succumbing to pressure reminds us of our own vulnerability.

The truth for me, may never be complete with this story, because both sides have things that they want to keep concealed in order to protect their interest in the upcoming legal battles. What I simply want to do at this point, is to encourage the black collective to give Sandra the room to have been human. She may have been “super woman” in some aspects, and she was very courageous in her stand against racial inequality and police brutality, but she also had struggles, frustrations and fears that impacted the totality of who she was as a human.

I also believe that we must move away from viewing suicide as an act of weakness, because I can tell you that many who struggle with suicidal ideation see it as the ultimate act of strength and control. Although I don’t agree with that line of thought, it is a reality for the person who believes it. We have to be more aware of the force at which something like depression hits. Although depression does not automatically lead to suicidal ideation, and suicidal ideation does not necessarily lead to suicide, we must be aware of the connection and the potential.

I encourage you to read the following article with an open mind, and then at least consider the possibility. I believe we owe it to Sandra Bland to honor her in totality. ~ Dr. Rick Wallace, Ph.D.


Why I’m Not Ready To Rule Out Suicide In the Case of Sandra Bland

 

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I promised myself I wouldn’t watch the Sandra Bland video. I didn’t think my soul could handle it. I should have been more honest with myself when making that promise. I should have known that I would have to avoid Facebook because autoplay does not care about my mental health. I saw it playing and I clicked on it. And I heard a dialogue that made me weep.

Sandra Bland was arrested because she didn’t put out her cigarette. Listen to the moment of escalation. It is her refusal to put out a cigarette that is in her car that sends an officer on a power trip. He drags her out of the car, out of view of the camera and we only hear her voice crying out in different ways. I counted 13 times, other sources reported 14, where she asked what she was being charged with only to receive no answer.

This video was clearly edited. I can only imagine what is shown on those missing seconds. But I want to focus on the fact that this video was released as a way to justify her arrest. I am sure the goal was to show an “uncooperative” Black woman. For me, it showed a Black woman who knew her rights and demanded they be respected. It showed me a man using the power of a system to break a woman. And the intentional, deliberate actions of this man is why I believe it is plausible for Sandra Bland to have committed suicide.

When the hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody first started, I was apprehensive. I shared a few things on Facebook and retweeted a few thoughts, but things didn’t sit right with me. And finally it clicked: I couldn’t say that I wouldn’t kill myself if I were in police custody.


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The surfacing of this video confirms that Sandra Bland was subject to a violent, racist, and trauma-producing encounter with the police. And after seeing what I saw, from a video that was edited to remove what I believe are the worst parts, I refuse to dismiss the idea that she may have committed suicide.

Not only do I believe that the impacts of violence against Black bodies could push someone to mentally breaking, I also refuse to say Sandra Bland didn’t commit suicide because she is “not that type of person”. It is dangerous to push that narrative because it implies that there is a type, and does not leave room for nuanced discussions of mental health in the face of violence.

There is not a type of person who commits suicide. There are red flags for some people, ranging from a history of depression to past attempts, but I believe anyone can reach a breaking point. The only “evidence” that says she was not “that type of person” is the archetype of the “strong Black woman,” which does not allow for Sandra Bland to be a full human being who was impacted by trauma. This narrative also paints suicide as weakness. And for me, as someone who lives with depression and suicidal thoughts, suicide has always lingered in the back of my head as the option to say I am strong enough to walk away from this life of fighting systems that seek to destroy me.

The shifting of suicide from a position of weakness is why I want us to not take suicide off the table and to recognize the power within that action, if she did commit suicide. Sandra, from the beginning, refused to give up her power. And in that jail cell suicide may have been a form of resistance and an astounding statement of self-love. A statement saying I will not give you the power to kill me and I love myself enough to not endure you killing me slowly.

I want us to hold multiple truths. Whether Sandra Bland committed suicide or not, we can indict a system. We must hold nuanced discussions that address the implications of state violence while removing the stigma around mental health and suicide, recognizing that state-sanctioned violence can produce suicide as a response. Black people, especially Black women, do not all possess the strength and resiliency to continue to move through a world made brutal by white supremacy. And we can fight against state-sanctioned violence while recognizing the ways in which suicide can be a manifestation and a resistance to that same violence.

So #IfIDieInPoliceCustody, I ask you to do what I am doing for Sandra Bland. Do not deny me full humanity, including the possibility of suicide, and do not stop pushing and interrogating the circumstances surrounding my arrest and my death. Do not wait for a cause of death report to indict the system. Know that no matter how I died, by my hands or the hands of someone else, the system is guilty. Be it a bullet or a self-tied noose, this system kills Black people.

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