Over 3000 protesters gathered in the Mall of America on December 20, 2014 in support of the BlackLivesMatter movement. Image via Facebook.
Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Laquan McDonald. Sandra Bland. Walter Scott. Rekia Boyd. Tamir Rice. Most Americans have at least heard their names, and the stories of how they died. We have seen videos and images of their deaths, or of the aftermaths. They are African-Americans who have been killed by police, or died in police custody, in just over a year. There are many more.
We know their names because of the ⌗BlackLivesMatter movement, born after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin. The ubiquity of smartphones and mobile internet access put the tools of the media in the hands of savvy, young, blacks who used them to demand America pay attention to what had long been going on — and going unheralded — in black communities, where the police acted as an occupying force, and court systems turn jails into debtors’ prisons with endless, exorbitant fees and fines.
This was the year that #BlackLivesMatter mattered. It arrived precisely at a moment of crisis that called for a movement that values and demands respect above respectability, doesn’t hesitate to disrupt “business as usual.”
One year following the flashpoint unleashed in Ferguson after the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson, Ferguson may look somewhat different, but their reality has been dismal compared to the promises made in order to bring about an end to the protests that gripped the community.
Mother of Michael Brown, Lesley McSpadden. Image via flickr.
As a nation, we watched the news. The majority of whites (80%) still do not see why these protests happen. They do not understand that, in contrast, nearly 78% of the national black community sees police forces in their communities in much the same light as those in Ferguson did one year ago. We have seen the growth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the backlash for that advocacy. We have listened to a national conversation that has ended in the deafening roar of silence rather than the changes the people recognized were needed.
We now watch as police forces reluctantly pass new rules and policies, slow to introduce new tactics and unwilling to open real conversation with those they are charged with “protecting and serving.” A prime example comes from Ferguson itself, where the city council has reviewed the proposal from the Department of Justice following their investigation that found evidence of a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias by police. A recent report stated, “Ferguson Councilman Wesley Bell described the Justice Department’s plan as a typical bargaining tactic. “The DOJ didn’t expect us to accept their first proposal. This is just part of the negotiations,” said Bell, elected to the council in April. “That’s all. You want $200. You ask for $400.” With this attitude being prevalent among the predominately white city council, how are the people of Ferguson expected to believe change is coming?
According to The Counted, 695 people have been killed by police or law enforcement agencies since the beginning of 2015 alone (as of August 7, 2015). On average, that is more than 3 people per day. If any other organization or group ran around killing 3 American civilians per day without accountability and with a seemingly all-but spotless record of no wrong doing, we would demand action. (The Counted is a project working to count the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015, to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.)
Sandra Bland. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Most recently, the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail cell defies explanation. It has led to attention of black women being abused and violated by police on a regular basis, yet going unreported. As a result, a demand to force those responsible to “Say Her Name” when there are victims has given rise to the movement #SayHerName.
Ferguson continues to weep. Deserving of every tear, these people have endured what most communities will never experience. Any mother, any parent, that can not take pause at the grief and sorrow of Michael’s mother is as heartless as his killer. Ferguson’s new police Lieutenant proudly says things are better, because she sees officers talking to each other and smiling more. Does she see that on the streets of the community they serve? Has anyone from the department looked?
Most Americans are unaware that the community that sees more abuse and violence from police and law enforcement agencies throughout America is the Native American community. Vastly under-reported and swept under the rugs in our halls of “justice”, these people have no where to turn for help. “It is a tribal issue,” they are told, if they are able to complain at all. As such, we are finally beginning to see the rise of #NativeLivesMatter.
When the international community looks at America and sees the treatment of our most marginalized citizens as human rights abuses and calls us on the carpet for it, shouldn’t we look more carefully within our own shores before starting up our war machines to invade countries we charge with human rights abuses?
We have a long way to go, America. You can not close the book on the chapter of Ferguson and assume Michael Brown’s story has ended, unless you also close the book on all the other lives that will be lost if we do not confront these issues as a population, and stop waiting for our government to do what it has failed miserably at doing up to this point.
May Michael Brown be able to Rest in Peace – some day.
In one shocking moment, the officer, tells Bland that if she does not get out of her car he will “light her up.” Subsequently, after she objects to having her head banged against the ground and telling him that she suffers from epilepsy, Encinia responds by saying, “Good.” (Image: Screenshot/Youtube)
While many questions still remain about what exactly happened to Sandra Bland in a Texas jail cell before she was found dead under mysterious circumstances on July 13, those looking for answers about why she was initially placed under arrest three days earlier were offered a look at devastating dash-cam footage released by the Texas Department of Public Safety on Tuesday evening which showed the arresting officer, Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia, actively escalating a situation with violence and threatening the unarmed black woman with a Taser.
The manner in which the escalation occurred led law enforcement officials to say that Encinia had not followed department procedures and failed to “maintain professionalism” during the arrest.
In one shocking moment, the officer, tells Bland that if she does not get out of her car he will “light her up.” Subsequently, after she objects to having her head banged against the ground and telling him that she suffers from epilepsy, Encinia responds by saying, “Good.”
As the New York Timesreports, several Texas lawmakers who were shown the footage said it is clear that Bland should never have been treated in such a manner nor ultimately taken into custody by police. “This young woman should be alive today,” said State Representative Helen Giddings, Democrat of Dallas.
According to the Times:
Ms. Bland, an African-American from the Chicago area who had come to Texas for a job at her alma mater, Prairie View University, was arrested after she was stopped July 10 for a failure to signal a turn.
The video also confirmed an account from the family’s lawyer that the confrontation between Ms. Bland and the trooper, Brian T. Encinia, escalated after she refused the officer’s order to put out a cigarette, said [State Senator Royce West, Democrat of Dallas].
Neither the Taser nor the confrontation over the cigarette were mentioned in Officer Encinia’s incident report, which was released on Tuesday by the Waller County district attorney’s office.
Watch the footage [Warning: Graphic and strong language]:
In a press conference late Tuesday, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety said that Encinia failed to “maintain professionalism” throughout his interaction with Bland, and that he has been taken off the street and placed on administrative duty for duration of the investigation into Bland’s death. In answer to a reporter’s question, Texas state Sen. Royce West said that the dash cam footage showed that Bland should not have been taken into police custody.
The subsequent death of Bland has continued to raise troubling questions since she was found hanged on the morning of July 13. A medical examiner report and the county sheriff’s office ruled her death a suicide, but during the three days Bland spent in jail, Bland’s family members said they spoke to her on the about posting bail, and that a suicide seemed “unfathomable.” An hour before she was found, Bland had asked to use the phone again, county officials said.
On Monday, officials in Waller County released additional details about the morning Bland died, including surveillance video footage showing the hall outside of cell 95, where Bland was held. Citing interviews with family members and with the bail bondsman who was among the last to speak with Bland, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said it is “too early to make any kind of determination” and that “this investigation is still being treated just as it would be a murder investigation,” signaling that he had not ruled out any motives and would explore all leads and evidence, including videos, fingerprints in her cell, and the plastic bag found around her neck.
The Bland case is the latest in a string of high-profile incidents around the country that have highlighted the strained relationship between the African-American community and local police.
Around two minutes into the 52-minute video, Bland changes lanes without signaling, and the police officer pulls her over. After several minutes while the officer sits in his cruiser, presumably going over paperwork, he returns to the vehicle to find Bland is upset.
“You seem very irritated,” he says. She responds by saying that she only changed lanes because she felt the officer was speeding up behind her.
The officer then asks Bland to put out her cigarette, and when she refuses, he orders her to step out of her car. When she refuses, he opens her car door and orders her repeatedly to step out, while she argues that she did nothing wrong.
The encounter soon turns physical.
“Step out or I will remove you,” he says repeatedly. “Get out of the car now, or I’m going to remove you. I’m going to yank you out of here.”
On Twitter, the reactions to what the newly released footage reveal about the arrest included expressions of outrage and confirmed for many that Bland should never have ended up in that jail cell in the first place.