I still have not processed what has and is happening in the case of Sandra Bland. As a researcher, I am compelled to run through timelines and theories and to outline methods of data collection and reasons for analysis. To make clear my purpose for writing and the uses for doing research. So let me start with the confirmed timeline.
Friday, July 10, 2015, Sandra Bland was in Prairie View, Texas for a job interview at her alma mater Prairie View A&M University. She received the job and was due to start as early as the next week. Leaving campus, she stopped by law enforcement for failing to signal while changing lanes on University Drive. During her arrest, she was slammed to the ground and can be heard on video asking the officers about their treatment of her.
Monday, July 13, 2015, Sandra Bland was found dead in her Waller County Jail Cell. The Waller County Sheriff says it was suicide.
I have collected the news articles, oral histories, interviews, tweets, press releases and media appearances of community members, activists, family, friends of Sandra Bland. Moreover, as a critical race scholar invested in womanist inquiry, I have engaged my reflexivity in this moment. Here are my current reflections. THERE will be more. This is not the end of this engagement.
Thursday, July 16, 2015—First Semi-public Response Or What it Means to be a Womanist Rhetorician in Active Voice I got to work this morning after spending time working from home between posts and tweets about the news of Sandra Bland. Her encounter with the police happened on University Dr. I take University Dr. every day to go to my office. It's the easiest way to get on and off campus from the highway. This type of news is hard to take. There are plans for a rally tomorrow. I'm considering giving up my much-coveted research day to go and participate because I can't imagine walking back into my classroom in the fall talking about the power of activism and not being active. I can't imagine talking about social justice and not demanding it when something like this happens to a new hire staff member right on the front door of campus. I can't imagine that. I can't imagine that silence. Nor can I participate in that silence. And while I understand and respect what her sorority and her family are asking in not participating in rallies or creating hashtags or engaging in a movement focused on what happened to her, I also understand that one of Sandra's positionalities in this world was activist. I know that she was working toward being a citizen journalist with her own media presence and videos posted under the moniker Sandy Speaks. I know from those that knew her personality she would likely have come out to support efforts to find answers if this had happened to someone else in her community. All of this leads me to ask when a woman as dynamic as Sandra Bland is wrongfully taken from her family, friends, and community can we be silent--even at the family's request? Should we be silent? Will we be silent? I don't believe we can be. It just doesn't seem possible to be silent now. Again, all respect to the family (and I will be respectful of Sandy's personal legacy), however, Sandy Speaks. We speak.
Friday, July 17, 2015—First Public Responses
Saturday, July 18, 2015—Second Public Response—Cultural Knowledge and Locating Spaces for Activism
Yesterday, after the protest, I walked back to my car with one of my students as the student told me least five stories, all featuring students I know, about students being arrested and taken to jail for minor infractions by Waller County Sheriff. Everything from jaywalking to speeding (35 in a 30 zone). Please note, college students, like all other humans, are not perfect. I know that. I wasn't perfect as a college student, and I’m not now. However, the only places in The State of Texas I've ever seen painted crosswalks have been on college campuses, very large cities, and school crossing zones. Hell, most of Texas doesn't even have proper sidewalk! Jaywalking! College students are going to jail for this!
My student and I talked, and I asked why this sort of thing was happening. My student said it's because the students are Black and appear to have money. Adding that's it's not their money though; it's their parents. I don't think I'll ever forget this part of our interaction. "Dr. T, they [parents] just so happy we got to 18 got into college and might make it 24 more years, they don't want us to screw up. So they buy us what we need to keep us in school. If they can afford a car, they buy us a nice car! Why should I get tickets for not speeding every time I leave campus? My parents work hard. My mom works hard." The student went on to tell me that they have had a case for "speeding" (this time it's for 35 in a 30) nearly every semester and is considering transferring to another school saying, "I love y'all but this shit is ridiculous."
I've heard these stories several times a semester EVERY SEMESTER since I started at PV. I keep asking people why. Why is this happening? Why do so many of our students have criminal cases for minor things that should be a ticket? Where the hell are we? I was never satisfied with the answers. Never! Now I know why. Not one person ever talked about the problem in terms of the common intersect--sheriff and police. The rampant racism and corruption of the local police are apparently working to limit the lifetime possibles of these students. There are several industries you can't work in if you have misdemeanor convictions.
This is about the systematic limitation of these Black Lives.
There are over 8,000 undergrads at PVAMU. Imagine what it does to their economic output of each of them has 1-8 misdemeanor traffic infractions on their record between the adult ages of 18 and 22. Think about that. What would it have done to your career? Would you have one in your given field of study? I went to college to be an elementary school teacher. If I'd gone to PV as an undergraduate, I might not have been able to have an externship at a local elementary school if driving to the nearest grocery store caused these types of interactions with the law. If I'd returned to California, I might not have ever been able to get a job in an elementary classroom. Think about that. For these young adults, this sort of continual interaction with law enforcement means that these adults are entering the economy and their professions with student debt AND criminal records. Do you have a criminal record that includes low rate speeding and jaywalking? Have you ever driven 5 miles over the speed limit? Have you ever been given a ticket or been arrested for that? Have you ever gotten a ticket for jaywalking? Have you ever considered that you would be arrested and held for 1-30 days for that? This is what is happening in this community. It is time to fight back against this sort of nonsense. College students should not be criminalized for merely being college students just being Black college students.
Ethics of Activism
Today, with my voice, mind, and body I will support activism in this space. I cannot continue to live in a community that seeks so systematically to marginalize the bodies of Black college students in this way. This is not okay with my soul. In the words of Rachel Maddow “Watch this space!”