The Soapbox: Spreading Unsubstantiated Theories About Sandra Bland’s Death Won’t Bring Her Justice

Sandra Bland was found hanging in her jail cell, only a few days after being pulled over and arrested during a traffic stop. Texas police and authorities have concluded it was a suicide, after preliminary autopsy results found that there was no struggle and Bland died of asphyxiation. Her family is demanding another independent autopsy, because they do not believe the young woman would’ve committed suicide and they, quite fairly, don’t have complete faith in those that detained her to seek justice on her behalf.

Many of us have been following this story very closely. In the midst of ongoing conversations about police brutality, which has claimed the lives of Black men, women and children, this case has elevated the public’s anxiety. Like Sandra Bland’s family, we want the facts, we want answers. Naturally, tensions are running high and many, sadly, are anticipating the worse: What if the police murdered Sandra Bland?

As details of the case continue to emerge and the second independent autopsy has yet to be released, the internet will most certainly explode once more, revealing the public’s anger, deepest fears and shrewdest opinions. Though there has been plenty of sound reporting on the facts of the case, there has also been no shortage of conspiracy theories circulating the internet — including one that claims Bland was lying on the ground in her mugshot photo, the insinuation being that the young woman was dead when photographed.

This theory originated on Twitter, but thanks to Buzzfeed, it was given a much bigger platform with Ryan Broderick’s post, “People Are Speculating That Sandra Bland Was Already Dead When Authorities Took Her Mugshot.” (We are not linking to it, but here’s a post on NYMag.com about it.) At some point, doctored photos of Bland’s eyes rolled back in her head in the same mugshot even made their rounds on social media. A video released by Anonymous, which has garnered over 200,000 views, declared that Bland’s death was a murder based on such shaky evidence.

This is not only incredibly distasteful, but most certainly hurtful to the Bland family and their case. Many want to believe the police were responsible for her murder, so confirmation bias has ruined the public’s ability to be rational. The people and press circulating propaganda or only publishing information to confirm an opinion hatched from and based on insufficient information is highly problematic. To seek justice for Sandra Bland, we must commit ourselves to impartiality and most importantly, sensitivity. [ETA: Today, Texas authorities released Bland’s booking video, hoping to put an end to this disturbing theory.]

This is not a game nor is it entertainment. A young woman is dead. Whether or not she died at the hands of a police officer or took her own life in that jail cell, there was no reason for her to be arrested in the first place. Justice for Sandra Bland means acknowledging that fact, because that is the only thing we know for sure right now. Justice for Sandra Bland also means we respect her death and award investigators time to provide the Bland family with the answers and closure they seek. If we sensationalize her murder, but the facts of the case end up revealing a different story, we have done that young woman a disservice.

This story is not only important if someone killed Bland in her jail cell. Evidence points to the clear fact that Officer Encinia infringed on Sandra Bland’s rights the moment he demanded she put out her cigarette and get out of the car. He also obviously profiled her, because dash cam footage revealed the officer was traveling in the other direction, when he spotted her car, made a u-turn and raced after the young woman, who changed lanes to get out of his way and forgot to use her blinker. The likelihood that Officer Encinia would’ve found any reason to pull her over, whether she signaled or not, is supported by his erratic behavior.

It is important that the public understands that the fight for justice did not begin or end with the death of Sandra Bland– whether or not her death was suicide or murder. It began the moment she was profiled and her rights were thrown out of the window. It began when the United States of America declared a war on people of color and supported discriminatory racial profiling tactics. A war which has landed hundreds of thousands of Black men and women in jail and claimed the lives of even Black children. A war between the American people and the police force that has fostered distrust and animosity.

In an interview with Reverend Al Sharpton on MSNBC last week, Bland’s mother (pictured above with her daughter) said these words about her daughter:

“She knew her rights. And So while everybody is in an uproar, go do your research while this is all going on so that you know your rights……. The anger can be channelled into something than can be so much greater than the incident that happened with Sandy….. Sandy’s story is up on this side, but she is still speaking on the other side.”

The Bland family and the public are angry about Sandra’s untimely death, as everyone should be. Collective rage has most assuredly put pressure on investigators to answer the question: What happened to Sandra Bland? However, we cannot allow our anger to cloud our judgement. We must commit ourselves to finding out the truth, protecting ourselves from injustice and empowering others to do the same. The fight for justice for Sandra is the fight against police brutality and profiling. Whether or not Sandra Bland committed suicide or was murdered in her jail cell, we must never lose sight of the goal to end the police’s war on its citizens.

*This piece originally posted with half the content missing. Whoops! Sorry! My bad. — Amelia