One of my [many, many] fears coming from the election of Donald Trump was that the noise it created and the sheer amount of chaos and pain he’d cause would drown out some of the concerns of the most marginalized people among us. That concerns about police brutality, for instance, would get hidden under the shroud of, say, a potential mushroom cloud forming over us at any minute. I was afraid that the hashtags and awareness would fall farther down the proverbial newspaper front page as more headlines center on the 24/7 barrage of apocalyptic updates and covfefe tweets.
Sadly, those worries have proven to be necessary. While movements and organizers are as determined and focused as ever, marches haven’t stopped. Protests haven’t stopped, either. You can look at the way topics like police and prison reform have already been featured prominently as talking points for hopeful 2020 candidates to see the on-the-ground impacts of Black activism in America. However, with the mainstream media’s reticence to highlight these stories, it’s easy to believe that police brutality and Black folks unjustly being killed at the hands of police aren’t as big of an issue anymore. That’s simply not true. And if you needed any reminder of the omnipresent danger Black folks continue to be in at the hands of police, just look at the new developments from the Sandra Bland and Oscar Grant cases.
Oscar Grant was one of the first and most infamous cases of a Black man murdered by police in the social media era. The 2009 killing, immortalized the 2013 movie “Fruitvale Station,” was filmed on camera phones and quickly spread across the internet. In the video, we see a cop, Anthony Pirone, pinning Grant to the ground before another officer, Johannes Mehserle, fatally shoots him and point blank range. A report from the killing released last weekend revealed that Pirone lied about what happened in the incident. According to the report, Pirone called Grant the N-word. He also lied and said Grant kicked him and his partner. The details of Grant’s murder has now become even more devastating and nefarious than previously believed.
In 2015, Sandra Bland was pulled over for apparently failing to signal. Dashcam video footage showed the arresting officer, Brian Encinia, pointing a taser at her. Three days later, Bland was found hanged in her jail cell. Her death was ruled a suicide. Of course, there’s been suspicion about the circumstances of her death for four years. Just a few days ago, we finally got the point of view from Bland’s own cell phone. In the video we see that the officer was aggressive with her from the beginning, pointing his taser at her and threatening her, contradicting his own claims that he feared for his life.
Sandra Bland should be alive. Oscar Grant should be alive. The new evidence of both of their deaths only illuminates those facts. The new evidence shows that these two innocent people were accosted and victimized by police. We have videos. We have testimony. We have the truth.
I hope that the new information we have that affirms what we already thought about Grant and Bland and the circumstances surrounding their deaths, serve an important purpose of reminding us that Black lives are still in danger. And police are putting these lives in danger. Just because these cases aren’t headlining CNN anymore doesn’t mean they aren’t still happening at the same rate. Which means it’s on us – Black outlets, Black activists and Black readers – to be as loud as we can about these injustices.
For instance, last week 21-year-old William Devaughn Smith was approached by police because he was a suspect in a robbery. Taking the ever-so-common (especially when Black folks are involved) approach of shooting first and asking questions later, the police fired into Devaughn’s car in broad daylight. As a result, three boys were shot. Their ages: five, four and one. Is this the first time you’re hearing about this story? We have to remember that mass murderers and domestic terrorists are constantly being taken into custody unscathed, let alone alive. Meanwhile, police are shooting Black babies when they approach Black suspects. It hasn’t changed since Sandra. Since Oscar. Since forever.
So while we are gasping for air under a tidal wave of unending existential threats to our very existence, it’s always important to be reminded that the most central threat to black folks in the American experience – that being the fact so many white folks want us dead – has never gone away. And we have to believe that those who want us dead are more emboldened by the lack of headlines about killing us that pop up on TV as well as the unflinching support of a president who sides with their bigotry.
Sandra Bland should be alive right now. Oscar Grant should be alive right now. And every day we add more Black folks to that list of people who would be alive if not for the American police forces. We can’t stop saying their names because if we don’t, no one else will.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet.