We are Sandra Bland

During the worst years of apartheid in South Africa, it was not uncommon for a person, usually Black and poor, to be arrested by police and then just disappear — never to be heard from or seen again. Suicide while in police custody, especially by hanging, was often listed as the official cause of such deaths.

Not even the well-known Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko was exempt from police abuse. Biko, South African police said, had died of a “hunger strike” at age 30 while in jail in September 1977; it came out much later that he had died after being tortured by the country’s notorious security police and then refused the proper medical treatment. A cover-up of Biko’s death had taken place all the way to the top of the South African government. Biko’s crime? Being caught out of his designated “banning area” after curfew one night.

In the case of Ms. Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African-American citizen, the “crime” was a much simpler and thus more insidious one: a very minor traffic violation in Texas in July that led to her being arrested on a major felony charge. She was found to have killed herself by hanging in her jail cell three days later. Bland’s surviving family members do not believe the official ruling that she took her own life while behind bars, and neither do I. Looking closely at all the facts in the case, it's not hard to come to the conclusion that an official police cover-up of some kind was (and still is) in place.


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