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Anyone paying attention to American politics breathed a collective gasp of disbelief Saturday morning when they woke up to learn that accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was — as was being widely reported — “dead by suicide.” But the reasons for that gasp varied widely.

“How could this happen?” everybody demanded to know in an inquiry fueled by curiosity that has been split along partisan and socio-economic lines. “He was on suicide watch, wasn’t he?” was the resounding chorus across social media and cable news networks alike.

The single answer to both of those questions — that overworked maximum security corrections officers guarding the high-profile inmate were simply fatigued and reportedly didn’t check on Epstein for “several hours” — hasn’t satisfied those who are asking. Dozens of conspiracy theories were immediately inspired from Epstein’s death, with major members of the media lending serious credence to them and even (especially?) the president retweeting an accusation that implied Bill and Hillary Clinton were involved.

The episode was a total 180 from when Waller County Jail officials declared that Sandra Bland hanged herself more than four years ago. In that instance, it sure seemed like the same people hurriedly screaming conspiracy theories about Epstein were even quicker to accept the police-controlled narrative behind the death of a Black woman motorist dubiously jailed over a moving violation that, if anything, should have required a simple citation and not incarceration.

Considering the clear differences between each case, for anybody to think that Epstein’s death was shadier than Bland’s is, at best, a prime example of pure, unadulterated and peak white privilege and, at worst, the undervaluing of Black life.

Epstein, facing the prospects of spending the rest of his disgraced 66-year-old life in prison for unimaginable sex crimes with young girls, had absolutely nothing to lose by killing himself. The 28-year-old Bland, on the other hand, had plenty to lose, including the job at Prairie View A&M University, for which she was driving from Chicago to Texas in the first place. 

But still, society would rather entertain unfounded conspiracy theories that leave them aghast at the same criminal justice system that they failed to even think about when Bland’s death was announced four years ago. If it wasn’t for social justice groups like Black Lives Matter dedicatedly bringing national attention to a suspicious jail death that followed a controversial, if not racist, traffic stop, Bland’s plight may not have even been covered by the mainstream press, which has seemed more partial to the Epstein story than hers.

The truth is, both deaths should be treated with great urgency, if not for very different reasons.

But the fact of the matter is that America is numb to Black death. People would apparently rather believe that a young African American woman with her whole professional life ahead of her willingly decided to kill herself in jail before accepting the mere possibility of an accused pedophile who rubbed shoulders with every modern president except Barack Obama and could possibly snitch on them took his own life after being taken off suicide watch.

Is it possible that nefarious forces at play killed Epstein instead of him taking his own life? Of course it is! But then it should be equally as plausible to think the same for what many people have called the murder of Sandra Bland. It’s just too bad that many people, including some in mainstream media, fail to make that clear distinction.

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