It could be the snap reaction of a tightly clutched purse. Locked eyes even, may very well be considered an all-out assault. It’s more easily noticed when sharing breathing space in an elevator. Something about tight spaces, buildings over 4 stories and black faces terrifies white people. Or, me entering a train and knowing that choosing an empty seat is some 500 year old negotiation between rush hour, humanity and a legacy of hate, is too routine in America. Smile, but not suspiciously. Talk, but not loudly. Walk, but not proudly. Such nuance keeps us fairly safe and them in a state of suspicious peace. Body language, tonality, and a catalogue of other rules accompany what I call for correct reference, “White Comfortability”. For us, it never needed a name, but humanity is unknowingly crying out for definitions of the racial wildfires, that rip across TV screens and twitter feeds hourly. In many social spaces this emotional bargaining is harmless. We’ve weaved it so well into the seams of the Western world it never goes overwhelmingly unnoticed. But, the management of White Comfortability is a fatal phenomenon much too often.
Sandy Bland, 28 years old, squared off with White Comfortability and lost in the physical realm during a “routine" traffic stop. Trespassing upon White Comfortability during a routine traffic stop by definition of American History is playing Russian roulette with a Black life. Her regal skin, impassioned confidence, and astute knowledge of her rights, earned her a death sentence. She held officer Encinia’s Comfortability hostage without ever wielding a firearm. I imagine she knew the consequences of this, and that she, would be condemning herself to martyrdom. And so, without fault, our society has to bear witness to another Hurricane, Hurricane Sandy to be exact.
Bland’s mother, Geneva Read-Veal, buried her spirited daughter Sunday, July 26, 2015, just as Wanda Johnson, mother of slain adolescent Oscar Grant laid her son to rest January 7, 2010. Wanda Johnson and Read-Veal both had to look in the lifeless faces of their children and ask themselves, did I do enough?Grant’s murderers too were bold in their execution of him under the color of law. Though I refuse to compare injustices, thoughts of being falsely arrested as she was haunts me. Waiting on death shakes me. Sandra Bland… waited. Three days she wallowed in state confinement unable to comprehend where she went wrong. “I exercised my right as a citizen” she must have thought. “I’m allowed to call my lawyer” she could have repeated to herself. The only evidence available is a voice mail she left a friend who also “waited” to confirm her safety.
Many theories are being traded as to what collapsed the life of Sandra Bland. Texas Law enforcement stated that Sandra Bland hung herself with a trashbag knotted in a way that would impress an all-star boy scout. “Other America” believes she was executed. What is factual, is at the very time I’m typing this, the total amount of people killed by police is 659 a number unmatched by any developed country in the world. Somewhere among the first and last name’s in that spreadsheet is Sandra Bland’s. Like others dawning that list, Sandra Bland was a person. She harbored feelings, kissed cheeks, hugged lovers, cried, ran manicured fingers across the foreheads of family, and laughed at old inside-jokes.
Between her drive from Chicago and her death, she had been interviewed for a school ambassador position at Prairie View A&M, and got it. Sandra Bland was poised to become a pied piper for higher education and social uplift. Sandra Bland extolled her sentiments to the Black and Brown of this country and chose to now make her life’s work inspiring Other America’s youth. Could Sandra Bland have been anymore respectable? A woman 28 years old, landing a job at a University sounds like a tuesday night sitcom. But none of her achievements could save her from ritual, from habit, and from “order”. Had she known that the abuse of White Comfortability earned uppity negroes like her warm graves, she may have escaped to guide incoming freshman towards excellence. But, “You seem very really irritated” is what Officer Encinia asked Sandra Bland during the stop. And forgetting her place in the food chain, failing to acknowledge her gender, wrongfully assuming she was a human with real emotions replied, “I am. I really am. I feel like it’s crap what I’m getting a ticket for. I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over and you stop me. So yeah, I am a little irritated, but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket”.
At that moment Officer Encinia’s Comfortability was shattered. Sandra Bland had breeched the gates to his ego. Eric Garner would make this same fatal mistake 1 year ago and 4 days before Sandra Bland, with the same item of interest, a cigarette. He asked her to put out her cigarette, in her car. Muhammad Ibn Bashir, Author of Raw Law: Urban Guide to Criminal Justice describes the methods used in these two events remarkably. He articulates that anytime an officer gives a command, no matter how bizarre, it can be used against the person in question if not obeyed as non-compliance. This is where the story puzzles me. For all Sandra Bland knew about her rights, and every comment she had on the state of affairs in America, she must have known the possible outcomes of her actions. Officer Encinia was mere farmhouse in the path of Sandra Bland’s Hurricane of dignity and purpose. Her life had taken on a new meaning and Officer Encinia wanted remind Sandra Bland just where she ought to be in the world in his eyes. He needed his Comfortability protected at all costs and Sandra Bland ruined that relationship. What other than death was awaiting Sandra Bland? How could Officer Encinia lead a normal life after having the social walls of jericho obliterated? So I am convinced that she acted intentionally, taking a stand for others whose management of White Comfortability had gone on auto-pilot. She died for it.
Gary Youngue correspondent for the The Guardian magazine insists, “But we do know, with gruesome certainty, that his number will come up – that one day he will be slain in cold blood by a policeman (once again it probably will be a man) who is supposed to protect him and his community. We know this because it is statistically inevitable and has historical precedent. We know this because we have seen it happen again and again. We know this because this is not just how America works; it is how America was built. Like a hurricane, we know it is coming – we just do not yet know where or when or how much damage it will do.” Gary Younge was right about everything but the gender of that hurricane. Hurricane Sandy like the other monumental forces of human nature in this era, has crushed homes, wrecked lives, and awakened those who usually sleep through storms. The damage is done. Her voice remains. Say her name. Make them uncomfortable. Make us uncomfortable if need be… Sandra Bland