At a time when the nation’s division over race and social justice imploded following the past week’s carnage of Black bodies, we honor the life of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Black woman who died in police custody one year ago today.
Rev. James Miller, pastor of DuPage AME Church where Sandra grew up in Lisle, Illinois, told The Chicago Tribune that to incite effective change, the nation must be all in.
“The African-American community cannot be the only ones talking about civil rights and equity. It’s when white people start talking about it that real action can take place,” Miller said.
He voiced that law enforcement has to enact a method of community policing and praised Lisle’s mayor and police force for their unwavering support after Bland’s death.
Miller said the state of tension and violence in America will only escalate until real conversations are had.
“What we’re seeing is a disease, and disease is progressive,” he said. “It’s only going to get worse.”
DuPage has scheduled two candle lighting ceremonies on Sunday to honor Bland’s memory, according to The Tribune. Miller said the vigil will help bring healing to family and friends who worshiped and congregated with Bland.
On Wednesday morning at the Texas jail where Sandra Bland died, a local parishioner held a prayer service for Bland, and Hope AME Church, the sanctuary that she was pulled over in front of, plans to hold services as well.
But the biggest piece of light is the announcement that Bland’s church will open the Sandra A. Bland Diversity Institute in January on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, The Tribune reports. The institute’s purpose is to inspire a new generation to pursue the same spirit, faith, and social activism Bland displayed.
News reports broke out this time last year regarding Bland’s arrest, captured on a police dash cam. Bland, 28, was stopped on July 10 in Waller County, 50 miles outside of Houston, while traveling from Chicago to start a new position at Prairie View A&M University.
After a tense confrontation between Bland and Officer Brian Encinia, Bland was arrested for assaulting a public servant and taken to Waller County Jail, where she died on July 13, 2015. An autopsy ruled her death a suicide.
According to The Chicago Tribune, attorneys for Waller County Jail said Bland was suicidal and argued that she killed herself because she was depressed over her relatives’ refusal to quickly bail her out of jail.
Her family grieved mostly in private, but rallied together to find the truth behind what happened during that fateful day in July. Last August, they filed a wrongful death suit against Encinia and Waller County Jail. A court date is scheduled for next January.
Since Bland’s death, several developments have occurred.
Encinia was fired by the Texas Department of Public Safety and indicted for perjury after a grand jury determined he lied about the circumstances surrounding the traffic stop. He pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.
Texas legislatures are reforming laws to improve the process for mental health evaluations in jails, while also discussing changes to laws that allow arrests for minor infractions like traffic violations, according to The Marshall Project.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards discovered during an inspection that officers did not routinely check on inmates and that a group of jailers failed to complete a mandatory yearly suicide prevention training, The Project reports. The commission also created new forms for jailers that aid in identifying suicidal tendencies.
Next July, the nation will also mark the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two Black men fatally wounded by an officer’s gun, their deaths broadcast over social media, and will grapple with the shooting death of five Dallas police officers killed at a rally to honor the lives of Sterling and Castile.
Across the nation, protesters marched in the streets, calling for justice and accountability over Black lives senselessly taken during deadly police confrontations.
Each year, we tearfully add names to the list of Black men and women who died in police custody, inciting new fears while century-old ramifications of inequality linger on. It begs an answer to poet Gil Scott-Heron’s question: “Who will survive in America?”