We have what seems to be yet another case of a black woman dying while under police custody. Sandra Bland’s death seems on the surface to be tragic, but just one more body to the body count of the genocide of black people in the United States.
However, given the history in the United States of how local, state, and federal law enforcement colludes and is often indistinguishable from explicitly white supremacist terrorism, we cannot harbor any illusions as to what is the actual situation: a political assassination.
Say her name: Sandra Bland.
Sandra Bland, Sandy to her friends and family, was a college-educated black woman moving to Texas for work. She was also an activist in the Black Lives Matter movement. These facts are often separated. The overall media narrative is trying (perhaps with good intentions) to paint her as a passive, well behaved, “suburban” Innocent Black Woman.
Mental health issues that lead to suicide often do not have any signal or external indications even for those close to the person. As we argue against a narrative of suicide in Sandra Bland’s case we do not do so because we attach stigma to depression or other mental health issues that can lead to suicide. We do so because we think this is a political assassination in which suicide is used as a cover story to the truth. We can never know what Sandra Bland’s inner life was like – and we do not speculate on it one way or the other.
This narrative is perhaps rooted in trying to bend in the different direction of the Black Thug. However, this separation is actually disarming the inquiry into her murder: it speaks to the motive.
Generally, to consider a crime, we must see means, opportunity, and motive. The State agents clearly had means and opportunity. In fact, deaths by hanging during short or relatively short stays in jail have a long history in political repression – we can recall the case of Angel Rodriguez Cristobal, murdered in Federal prison while serving a 6 month sentence for civil disobedience. Like Sandra Bland who was looking forward to a new job and had a huge support network, he was the father of a newborn and with a similarly huge support network, making it unlikely that suicide had a motive.
Sandra Bland was not a radical, but was clearly someone who stood her ground, who fought back. We can see in the video of her arrest how she was clearly and firmly identifying the problems with her arrest, thanking the videographer, and otherwise not resisting arrest, but not surrendering either. Her dignity even in the face of unnecessary violence was remarkable.
It is in motive that we must stress her activism: She stood with the Black Lives Matter movement. We won’t go into detail as to the hate generated in certain quarters even towards the most tame expressions of solidarity with this movement – much less more radical expressions. This is trivial to find. These objections are not small ones by internet trolls, but mainstream politics in White America: it is similar to the response against other Black civil rights and liberation movements at other points in history. Like in those movements, violence from random arrests and tear gassing to political assassinations are to be used as tools of intimidation and discipline.
In 1963 as the Black Civil Rights movement gained momentum, Medgar Evers was assassinated by a member of the White Citizen’s Council, an organization that so deeply colluded with the State that it took three trials and more than 30 years to convict the confessed murderer.
Sandra Bland is our Medgar Evers.
While all the circumstances that people are pointing out at the moment are indeed cause for suspicions, these suspicions alone are depoliticized and do not become the weapons we need. We must join these suspicions with the historical context of the murderous relationship between law enforcement and explicitly white supremacist terrorism. We cannot avoid the interrogation of the motives agents of the white supremacist State had in murdering Sandy Bland: her activism.
— Sam (@therunnersam) July 16, 2015
Perhaps at the time of the arrest the officers involved had no idea who she was. Perhaps they did. However, there is no doubt that once under custody, and after 3 days, she and her activism were known.
Medgar Evers, Angel Rodriguez Cristobal, the victims of the Greensboro Massacre, all others from a list too long to list here were all killed by white supremacists in the service or in collusion with the State. The repressive forces of the State are not here to protect us, but to keep us in line.
We need to abandon our shock at the second class citizenship of non-white people, in particular black women, are afforded in this country – and understand that these are not rotten apples. We then can grasp the fact of the matter: that political assassinations exist, and that the killings of real and imagined criminals exist as a cover for the deployment of political violence when needed. The repressive State apparatus, of which local police departments are a fundamental pillar of this. The militarization, lack of accountability, and overt racialized violence of all police departments (regardless of the racial and ethnic background of the officers) are not the result of a broken system, it is precisely the way the system is intended to work.
This system, capitalism-imperialism, doesn’t just exist to enforce a class system based solely on money and ownership, but on gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. It disciplines and rewards. We see the carrot in Sandra Bland being allowed to go to college. We see the stick when she gets murdered for being too uppity and political. It is a signal: we are allowed life, not deserve it.
There can’t be doubt.
We must charge murder, as we charge genocide: Sandra Bland fought for liberation, and was killed for it.
The State and its repressive apparatus has shown once again that not only do black lives don’t matter to them, but that even the most pacifist and reformist activism will be met with murder. How many more dead innocents do we need before we wake up to the reality? Revolution will not immediately solve the issue of violence, in fact it temporarily intensifies it – but it will make our deaths be in the service of liberation, not one-sided sacrifices in the altar of the enemy. This is a war in which only one side kills and one side dies. We need to change that.
We need the political party capable of leading our side in the war, we need mass organizations that sum up and focus our anger and fear, and we need a people’s army to protect us and take the fight to the enemy until victory.