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By Zillah Eisenstein
By now Sandra Bland’s name has been in the news for several weeks. A 28-year old Black woman is stopped by a white police officer. She saw the police officer in her rear view mirror and tried to get out of his way. He pulled her over for moving lanes without using her signal. She gets a ticket, which is a bit of an overreach in and of itself. She then is arrested for this minor traffic violation.
She is annoyed and bothered; who would not be? But the officer becomes more annoyed and nasty and loses his temper. It seems irrational, given the origin of the stop. He tells her to put out her cigarette. She refuses. She is told to get out of the car, probably illegally, and then is manhandled and pulled out of her car, and thrown to the ground.
What started out as an ordinary day, July 10, turned to shit quickly for Sandra, Sandy to her friends. Instead of receiving a ticket and going on her way she is terrorized by a policeman, arrested, thrown in jail and had bail set at $5000. The bail is outrageous and excessive. She has no history with the law and yet was made to stay in jail until the bond could be paid. Bail became a punishment without any due process, ending in her unnecessary death.
She was isolated in a cell by herself for two days. Instead of total outrage at this, the news media interrogate her. Whether she was unruly, whether she was using drugs, whether she was depressed, and in the end, whether she committed suicide. She has no culpability here. None. Instead, the arresting officer and judge who set the bail are to blame.
Sandra Bland was condemned to death as a Black woman, having nothing to do with who she was as an individual. This is what a white supremacist patriarchal justice system looks like. You have no rights or effective legal protections to defend yourself in moments like these.
In a sane world, “we”—everyone—especially white people would be asking how could this happen? “We” would be outraged that she was arrested in the first place, that there was a punishing bail set, that she had to suffer even an hour locked up. Instead, there are queries about her as an individual.
The problem here is not Sandra Bland nor any of the other recent victims of police violence and carceral state abuse. Since her death/murder, at least three other women of color have been found dead in their jail cells. Sandra Bland died because she was a black woman who got annoyed at a white police officer. She died because of an overly punishing and retrograde police state. Police and policing have become violent beyond sanity.
I am sadly reminded of Kalief Browder, the Bronx teenager who was jailed for three years without ever receiving a trial. He was arrested for supposedly stealing a backpack. He continually refused plea bargains because he said he was totally innocent. He languished in jail because he stood by his innocence. His jailers beat him tortuously. His case was finally resolved and he was released from Rikers prison only to succumb to his tortured existence and commit suicide. But he did not kill himself. He was killed by the racist prison system and its officers.
Sandra Bland was innocent of any actionable wrongdoing on the day she was incarcerated. She did not deserve to die. Sandra had about as much rights on July 10, 2015, as she would have had as an enslaved black woman in chattel slavery. No laws would have protected her then, nor do they do so now. However she died, she was murdered by an unforgiving system of white supremacist patriarchy.
Sandra’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, a single mother of five girls, says she will bury her daughter, which she did last week, and then will turn to seeking justice: “Once I put this baby in the ground, I’m ready. This means war.”
Sandra Bland is dead because of the unjust racist and sexist country she/we live in.
White anti racist feminists need to make a posse to protect our Black sisters. We need a white women’s anti-racist feminist posse that uses our bodies as a shield. We need to put our bodies between the white police and our black sisters. We must risk everything. Black women don’t get to choose. We do. This is the only way the violence will stop.
Zillah Eisenstein has been a Professor of Politics at Ithaca College in New York for the past 35 years and is now “Distinguished Scholar in Residence” there. Besides her recently published THE AUDACITY OF RACES AND GENDERS: A PERSONAL AND GLOBAL STORY OF THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN (2009, Zed Press, London; Palgrave, U.S.), her books include among others: SEXUAL DECOYS, GENDER, RACE AND WAR IN IMPERIAL DEMOCRACY (London, Zed Press; New York, Palgrave, 2007); AGAINST EMPIRE, ibid.; HATREDS: RACIALISED AND SEXUALIZED CONFLICTS IN THE 21ST CENTURY, (Routledge, 1996); GLOBAL OBSCENTITIES: PATRIARCHY, CAPITALISM AND THE LURE OF CYBERFANTASY (NYU PRESS, 1996); and MANMADE BREAST CANCERS, (Cornell Univ. Press, 2001). For more information, visit her website.