By now, you know here name: Sandra Bland.
You know what happened to her: pulled over by a police officer, he proceeded to abuse his authority, and she wound up in jail.
Then she "hung herself."
As we reel off the litany of Black people who have lost their lives unfairly and unjustly - Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and on and on - we should, to use Eric Garner's words, find it difficult to breathe. The constant stream of dead Black bodies being heaped at our feet cannot help but tighten the chest of any decent person. In most, if not all, cases these people were no threat to anyone, not armed, not doing anything that could be construed at the moment of their death as a threat to anyone. Some were murdered in the street, some shot in the back, some killed in their own homes, some in their cars, some running, some standing, some looking for help... and they are ALL DEAD.
DEAD. Killed in the main by law enforcement, with the occasional support of "law-abiding" citizens and racist malcontents, they have been set down in the ground and there have been outcries and protests and meetings and speeches and calls for justice...
...and still they die.
Every day, we are greeted with the latest addition to the butcher's bill. Even since Sandra Bland's horrific arrest and subsequent death, there have been more. It is a ceaseless parade of Black people being cut down for no reason, no purpose, no need. These people are just trying to live their lives and being deprived of those lives by a callous, cruel, heartless system of endemic racism that they cannot fight. Punches are thrown, jabs are taken, blows are struck, but at the end of the day, Whiteness is still the law of the land and Blackness is marked for death.
America may remove the chains, it may fight a war, it may pass laws, but all that does nothing to stem the infernal spread of toxic bigotry that envelopes and swallows Black life at a breakneck pace. Black people, ancestors dragged from their African homes to provide free labor, continue to suffer the depredations of taskmasters who have never known the feel of the lash in their hand. Whiteness is a disease, a despicable malady, that creeps into the souls of many who suffer from it but do not realize they are infected. They see the creeping, inexorable snuffing out of Black life as something that they are not party to, for not once in generations did they or their family own slaves, as if that were the only yardstick by which to measure such galling hatred.
We, the White people, are beneficiaries of a system that was built by the sweat, toil, and blood of Black slaves to provide White people comfort, strength, and power. Whatever strides have been made, whatever battles fought, whatever ink dried, that system lives and we benefit from it still. It is not torn down, rings and all, but stands in silent reproach of those who seek to surmount it, to collapse it, to bring White masters down to the level of everyone else, to take their rightful place in American life as free and equal citizens. No sound is made as its tentacles creep out from hidden dens to strangle and snuff out Black hope. Even a Black President cannot beat it down from the seat at the heart of that power.
No matter the circumstances, the actual events, of Sandra Bland's death, we mark it murder, wicked and foul. She was Black, she was strong, she knew her rights, and it did her no good, for the White power would not recognize her simple humanity or rights. Automatically, without thought, she was reduced in the eyes of a law enforcement officer who saw her challenges as weapons as potent as knives and guns. He stepped out of the guise of peace keeper and into the well-worn suit of slave master, and proceeded to attack her as if she were no more than an animal.
Our nation may well burn, consumed in a fire set by our recalcitrant need to maintain a death grip on a past that has no purpose or place in the 21st Century. If we suffer such self-immolation, it will be well-deserved, for allowing ignorance and bigotry to flourish in a time of knowledge is a crime that only a society may be asked to pay for in its own blood. We may weep at the destruction, but as the flames lick us, we should remember well that our hands could have put out the fire, if only we had reached down to our Black brethren and brought them up to their rightful place as equals. There is yet time, but Sandra Bland is the first wisp of smoke, a signal of the fire that waits to rage among us.