On July 10, activist Sandra Bland, 28, was heading to a new job that was to begin Aug. 3 with the Cooperative Extension Services at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. But three days later, she was dead with a plastic garbage bag around her neck at the Waller County Jail in Hempstead, Texas. Sounds exactly like a lynching to me.
That’s precisely why Rev. Jamal Bryant, a minister at the Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church in Baltimore, said, “This was not a case of suicide, but homicide.” However, Capt. Brian Cantwell, chief of investigation for the Waller County Sheriff’s Department, stated her death was “not … a criminal act.” If he’s right, how did an apparently happy young lady quickly become so despondent that she committed suicide after traveling 1,070 miles over a 17-hour period all the way from her hometown of Naperville, Ill., to Prairie View for a new job? Why, when she spoke with her sister, Shante Needham, during a telephone call on July 11 from the jail, did she not express any despondency whatsoever? These are among the many essential questions that must be answered. The following are ten essential things you might not know concerning her death:
1. Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia pointed his stun gun at her and said, “I will light you up,” during the July 10 minor alleged improper lane change stop after she lawfully refused to put out her own cigarette inside her own car. And when she screamed, “I got epilepsy!” while he was throwing her to the ground, he responded, “Good, good.” One of the officers ordered a bystander to stop filming. Fortunately, that person did not. Encinia has since been placed on administrative leave for violating traffic stop procedures and the department’s courtesy policy.
2. Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said Bland had been “very combative” during the stop. But a video obtained by ABC 7 doesn’t show that. However, it does show two officers on top of her in the street. And a witness reported he “saw the arresting officer pull Bland out of the car, throw her to the ground, and put his knee on her neck” while she was crying, “I can’t feel my arm. You just slammed my head into the ground.” Despite being assaulted by the cops, she was charged with assaulting a public officer, which is a third degree felony, and taken to the Waller County Jail where she wound up dead three days later.
3. A few days ago, former Waller County Judge DeWayne Charleston said Waller County is filled with “racism from the cradle to the grave.” He also said, “This is the most racist county in the state of Texas, which is probably one of the most racist states in the country.” And a Waller County constable, Herschel Smith, stated “You have to dot your i’s and cross your t’s before being Black in Waller County.”
4. When Rev. Walter Pendleton publicly complained about DA Mathis’ policy of racist selective prosecution, Mathis, in June 2014, sent the local and well respected pastor a text indicating “My hounds ain’t even started yet, dumb ass. Take your fake Dr. ass and jump off a high cliff.”
5. Head Sheriff of Waller County, Glenn Smith, was suspended for documented cases of racist assaults when he was chief of police in Hempstead, Waller County, in 2007. After completing his suspension, more complaints of racism were lodged — including illegal strip searches of Black men and women. He was fired in 2008 as chief in Hempstead. Despite that, the white majority that same year elected him Waller County Sheriff and reelected him in 2012.
6. Smith had been a chief sheriff’s deputy in another area notorious for racist brutality, Sabine County in East Texas. It was there where a Hemphill police chief and two deputies beat 35-year-old Loyal Garner Jr. to death on Christmas Day in 1987 while he was in lock-up at the police station following a minor traffic stop.
7. In 2004, Waller County was compelled to settle a federal lawsuit charging it with racist neglect of historically Black cemeteries. That settlement forced the county to provide much more funding and other resources to those cemeteries.
8. Waller County had among the highest numbers of lynchings in the state between 1877-1950.
9. During the 1861-1865 Civil War, the town of Hempstead in Waller County had three Confederate camps in its vicinity, was a Confederate supply center and had a Confederate military hospital.
10. Just a few miles south of Hempstead was the notorious Bernardo Plantation, built in 1822, where 100 enslaved Blacks served as beasts of burden on a large farm on the banks of the Brazos. It was the biggest slave plantation in Texas and the westernmost cotton plantation in the South. As noted by Texas State Historian Light Cummings following a recent historic and archaeological discovery of slave tools at the site, “[These objects are proof of] the terrible cost that enslavement exacted on those who were forced to labor under the hot Texas sun.”
Don’t merely be angry about the death of Sandra Bland. Be an activist, just like her. Call Avenging The Ancestors Coalition’s “F(ilm) the Police” Committee at 215-552-8751 to assist in getting justice for her.
The words from David Walker’s Appeal, written in 1829, along with the words of Christopher James Perry Sr., founder of the Tribune in 1884, are the inspiration for my weekly “Freedom’s Journal” columns. In order to honor that pivotal nationalist abolitionist and that pioneering newspaper giant, as well as to inspire today’s Tribune readers, each column ends with Walker and Perry’s combined quote — along with my inserted voice — as follows: I ask all Blacks “to procure a copy of this … [weekly column] for it is designed … particularly for them” so they can “make progress … against [racist] injustice.”
Michael Coard, Esquire, can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD900AM.