Sandra Bland, like countless others, was murdered by the State. She was dehumanized, brutalized and tortured. And regardless of whether she or someone else physically hanged her in that jail cell, her life was taken, nonetheless, by an entrenched system of White supremacy. Pulled over by a police officer for failing to signal, Sandra was subjected to the casual humiliation meted out by a system drenched in arrogant impunity. She may have been spared much of what came next had she groveled to his abusive conceit; but she had probably had enough. Sandra asserted her rights by asking questions about her detainment. When she was asked by the officer what was wrong, she calmly explained her exasperation. When she asserted her right to smoke inside her own vehicle, and defy an unwarranted demand, she was violated, threatened with a taser that can be, and often is, lethal, thrown to the ground, and handcuffed. Her pleas for mercy and compassion were summarily ignored or ridiculed as she lay helpless on the warm, Texas grass. She was found dead three days later in her jail cell.
Systemic racism exacts a high price. To the victimizer, that price involves the gutting of the soul. It requires the wholesale rejection of empathy, and a willful ignorance of the long lasting ramifications of centuries of injustice and crimes against humanity. The victims of racism are, as in so many other instances of persecution, often driven to numb the excruciating pain inflicted on them by such a system through drugs or alcohol, or extinguish it completely though the ending of their lives. This is a phenomenon rarely, if ever, understood by the oppressor. The constant humiliation, threats and violence that are meted out by a racist society each day dehumanize and alienate; and there is only so much a human being can take before they break. This same scenario is played out time and time again in any group that is oppressed, from the spate of suicides among LGBTQ teens, to the self-medication that many women are driven too, or the spike in alcoholism in Native American and First Nations communities.
In America, the machine of institutionalized racism grinds on unabated since slavery. It has morphed into a new kind of barbarity in the form of the prison and criminal justice system. It is a police/surveillance/prison industry that has effected poor Whites as well, especially since 9/11. But much of White society has decided that racism is a thing of the past. This lie is agonizingly etched into the bodies of Black and Brown people, who are disproportionately cut down daily by State violence, both seen and unseen. The mountains of corpses are not captured through the lens of a war photographer on a battlefield in one of America’s many wars of imperialistic domination. They are not easily spotted as in one of the countless, archived pictures of lynchings throughout this country just decades ago. But they are there if one takes a moment to see beyond the lens of their own privilege.
Suicide is, in the end, the final respite of the tortured. It is the tragic punctuation to a litany of cruelty and humiliation. And for the oppressed it often feels like the only escape from the daily misery inflicted by a callous and merciless society. Sandra Bland was arrested for “driving while Black.” She was brutalized for daring to assert her rights. She may have taken her life in that jail cell. We still do not know. But regardless, she is the latest, most visible, victim of execution (murder by the State); and, sadly, she will not be the last. The only way to truly honor her life is to remember that there are countless Sandra Blands, Tamir Rices, Natasha McKennas, Freddie Grays and Eric Garners, that we will never hear about because they have not yet fallen; and to continue to defy the monstrous system that perpetuates this savagery and carnage.
Kenn Orphan 2015