“Just do what the officer tells you to do so you can make it home alive.”
“You need to be respectful so you can live to fight another day.”
…but you didn’t fight this day. How can one do another day that which she was afraid to do before?
With the story of Sandra Bland’s arrest and death in Texas unfolding (not to mention Kindra Chapman and other black women who died in police custody over the past couple of weeks,) a familiar chorus is springing up. The chorus of those who analyze the actions of victims, while allowing for the systemic racism and state sanctioned violence against black bodies to continue unabated.
Yes, state sanctioned violence. Yes, I’m talking about America, “land of the free.” For if the state does not punish violence against its citizens, as the U.S. has repeatedly failed to do, then the state sanctions the violence against its citizens.
That aside, we need to discuss respectability politics again. As I, and many others, have said repeatedly, respectability politics is just another form of victim blaming. I reject ALL forms of victim blaming, especially the form that says a woman’s actions contributed to her being killed in police custody when she should never have been in police custody to begin with.
Sandra Bland’s only crime was knowing her rights and demanding they be respected. How dare she be “arrogant” as one CNN commentator described her? How dare she not bestow this obvious bully of a cop with a slew of “yes sirs” and “no sirs” so she could get out of there as quickly as possible? How dare she not follow the rules of engagement that have been passed down to little black boys and girls since well before Jim Crow? How dare she not stay in her place?
She dared not because enough is enough. Sandra knew black lives matter. She knew her life mattered. I’m sure she knew this obviously power drunk cop would be a nuisance or worse to the college students at her alma mater.
How dare the older generation continue to try to teach us to submit to unlawful, out of control authority? How dare they tell us to continue to lower our heads and give up all want for dignity in this, our supposed home? How dare they be so selfish to only want us to make it home? How dare they?
Continued police violence against black bodies is assured when everyone is simply “trying to make it home.” When we all live in fear, we do anything we can to minimize that fear. We don’t ask questions. We don’t assert our legal rights. We don’t speak out. We cease to live. We simply try to survive. All the while, this state of oppression strengthens our oppressors and those who would harm us.
If this state/nation/world isn’t better for my children than it is for me, then I am a failure. I refuse to teach them to only seek self preservation when all around them others suffer indignity and violence. I refuse to teach them to lower their eyes for any man, let alone a power hungry tyrant.
Sandy lived. She spoke up. She did her part to make things better for all of us. The worst thing we can do is turn her death into an example of why we should comply or die. We have to keep fighting to dismantle the power structure that killed her in the first place. It’s never been good enough to just make it home when my brothers and sisters didn’t.