UPDATED: 10:45 a.m. ET, Feb. 7, 2023
Originally published: July 13, 2021
Tuesday marked the 36th birthday of Sandra Bland, who was found dead in police custody following a questionable traffic stop-turned violent by the arresting officer in Texas in 2015.
An online birthday party happening across social media helped draw attention to all the ways that Sandra Bland’s legacy lives on nearly seven years after her death.
Bland’s birthday came one day after that of Trayvon Martin, who would have turned 28 years old on Monday.
Activists hope their deaths were not in vain as their names remain alive and more relevant than ever as police brutality and vigilante violence alike are still societal scourges killing Black lives with seeming impunity.
Bland was arrested during the kind of pretextual traffic stop that ended up killing Tyre Nichols in Memphis last month.
That was when the 28-year-old was driving from her native Illinois to begin a new job at Prairie View A&M University when she was pulled over for a minor moving violation. But what should have been a routine ticketing experience quickly devolved into brutality when State Trooper Brian Encinia failed to de-escalate the encounter, which resulted in Bland being charged with assault.
Dashcam video from Encinia’s cruiser suggested he was the aggressor.
Three days later, on July 13, 2015, Bland’s body was found hanging from her jail cell, where she had been remanded because of an inability to afford a $5,000 bond.
Even though Bland’s death was ruled a suicide, suspicion of officers in the Waller County Jail has lingered as no one has ever been held accountable.
Bland’s death took place amid a spate of controversial police-involved deaths of unarmed Black people, thrusting her name onto a growing list on which no one wants to be.
Since Bland’s death, her legacy has grown immeasurably. Notably, Texas has reformed its laws surrounding protocol during traffic stops. In 2017, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot signed the Sandra Bland Act into law, which set new mandates for county jails to divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues toward treatment and requires that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths.
The law was notably invoked last year when an inmate was found unresponsive and pronounced dead in his cell at Bexar County Jail. In that instance, the local sheriff’s office, as well as the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, were notified of the in-custody death of Michael Rene Johnson — two groups that, prior to the Sandra Bland Act being enacted, may not have been told promptly, or at all, about the incident.
Bland’s name also lives on with the Sandra Bland Center for Racial Justice in Austin. When it opened in 2021, Bland’s mother explained what the organization wants to accomplish, local news outlet KSAT reported.
“We’re trying to really assist families with being whole again. So we’re doing scholarships, we’re doing training, we’re teaching financial literacy,” Geneva Reed-Veal said at the time.
And in an indication of how important and widespread Bland’s name and legacy have become for the Black Lives Matter movement, a “Say Their Names” Memorial was opened in San Diego and prominently includes Bland.
Not all has been positive since Bland’s death. The justice being demanded by her family since Day 1 has been elusive. Her family has noted amid the national protests against police violence and demands for racial justice and equality that law enforcement was still killing Black people.
“I’m angry,” Shante Needham told ABC News in 2020. “I’m angry that my sister passed five years ago and they are still killing us. I’m angry.”
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