It has been one year since Sandra Bland died in the custody of police, one year since her name became a hashtag, part of the ongoing #SayHerName campaign which seeks to bring attention to the black women who have died after encounters with the police.
On July 10, 2015, Bland was pulled over and arrested by a Texas state trooper for failing to signal while changing lanes. Three days after her arrest, she was found dead in her jail cell.
This month, the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille have once again brought attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, and specifically the ongoing fight against police brutality. It took their recorded deaths to jolt this country back into an important national conversation about race. It shouldn’t have had to. So, in reflecting on the anniversary of Bland’s death, must we also wait for the death of another black woman in police custody in order to remember we must also #SayHerName?
Black women are still too often the invisible victims of the cultural epidemic that is police brutality. The list of black women who have died during encounters with the police in the last decade is painfully long. Spanning 2003 to 2014, their names include Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Miriam Carey, Shelly Frey, Darnisha Harris, Malissa Williams, Shantel Davis, Rekia Boyd, Shereese Francis, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tarika Wilson, Alberta Spruilli and Kendra James.
At least 8 black women have also died in interactions with police since Sandra Bland’s death in 2015. Four of those women died in police custody within weeks of Bland (Kindra Chapman, 18, reportedly committed suicide in her jail cell just one day after Bland).
The #SayHerName movement has certainly shined an important light on the deaths of black women as result of police encounters, but systemic issues regarding black women and police brutality remain. Bland’s death has become a catalyst for talks of reform regarding the mentally ill in Waller County, where she was jailed. But according to The Guardian, while Brian Encinia (the trooper who arrested Bland) was dismissed from his position, conditions at the Waller County jail where she was held have not improved.
The names (and lives) of only a handful of black women including Sandra Bland and Rekia Boyd have gained national attention but, for the most part, the deaths of black women as a result of police encounters gain less media attention than those of men. We’re having conversations about racism, yes, but we’re not talking nearly enough about how misogyny and sometimes sexual abuse play into the racism that black women experience on a daily basis and in interactions with the police.
The Black Lives Matter movement was created by black women, and black women continue to be at the forefront of the movement (Bland, herself, was vocal about police brutality before her death). As the interest and the expansion of the movement continues, it is vital that we expand our conception of who is affected by police brutality as well.
Black women, trans women, Latinos. So many marginalized groups have lost their lives as a result of interactions with the police. A year later, the circumstances of Bland’s death are still up for debate for many people, though officially, it was ruled as a suicide. But what made Bland so important, and continues to make her important, is that she served as a reminder that in the case of police brutality and harassment against black people, your gender does not and cannot protect you.
So much of the hopelessness that black people feel as a result of incidents like those that happened in Minnesota and Baton Rouge this month hinges on the fact that it feels as though no matter how much we protest and ask for our humanity to be acknowledged, nothing seems to change. That hopelessness for black women, then, sometimes feels compounded. Saying our names is just the beginning. Remembering us, as we remember Sandra Bland, is vital.