The Death of Sandra Bland in Police Custody—and the Cradle-to-Grave Racism of Waller County, TX

July 17, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


Sandra Bland

On the morning of Monday, July 13, the body of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Black woman, was found hanging in a cell of the Waller County jail, in Texas.

The Waller County Sheriff's office said Sandra Bland was found “not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation.” In other words, the authorities claim she hung herself, despite not having any shoelaces, belt, or sheet in her cell.

Family and friends of Sandra Bland are not buying this story. LaVaughan Mosely, a friend of Sandra at Prairie View A&M University in Waller County, told a reporter, “Anyone who knows Sandy Bland knows she has a thirst for life. She was planning for the future, and she came here to start that future.” Sharon Cooper, a sister of Bland's, said of the Sheriff's story, “Based on the Sandy that I knew, that's unfathomable to me.”

On July 10 Sandra Bland had been stopped by a cop from the Texas "Department of Public Safety” for allegedly not using a turn signal when she changed lanes. Two cops confronted her, and one ordered her out of her car. A video taken by a bystander shows her pinned to the ground by a cop with his knee in her back, her hands cuffed behind her. She is heard saying, “You just slammed my head into the ground! Do you not even care about that? I can't hear!”

The authorities in Waller County claim that Sandra was “argumentative and uncooperative”—as if that, even if it were true, somehow justifies two cops brutalizing her and putting her in jail on totally bullshit charges. They claim their jail videos, which they haven't released, show no one going into her cell Monday morning.

Why would anyone believe these pigs? In case after case across the country, the cops have been proven to be lying when they offer their lame excuses about the Black and Latino people they murder and brutalize, routinely. What is known is that Sandra Bland was alive when she got into the police car, she was alive at 7 a.m. Monday when she was given breakfast, and she was dead in a jail cell two hours later.

Waller County has a long and ugly history of what one resident called “cradle-to-grave racism.” Prairie View A&M was founded as an all-Black agricultural college shortly after the Civil War, on the site of what had been one of the largest slave plantations in Texas. According to the Equal Justice Institute, 15 Black people were lynched in Waller County from 1877 to 1950. Prairie View students protested for decades just to secure the right to vote in Waller County, an issue that was only partially settled in 2008.

Stolen Lives poster
Poster PDF (for print) color | black & white       JPG (full size, for web)

Glenn Smith, the sheriff of Waller County, has for years been notorious as a brutal and racist pig. Smith was previously the police chief of Hempstead, the county's largest town. He was suspended from that job when allegations of brutal behavior against Black people were filed against him and four other Hempstead cops. A year later, in 2008, Smith was fired when he was accused of making repeated strip searches of young Black people he arrested. That same year, he was elected sheriff of the county. Smith was re-elected in 2012, the same month as news broke that 29-year-old James Howell, who had been arrested on a minor drug charge, had died in the Waller County jail—supposedly from hanging himself.

Sandra Bland had driven from Chicago to Texas to start a new job at Prairie View. She had graduated from Prairie View in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture. She was deeply influenced by the struggles that have erupted throughout the country against the murder and brutality the police commit against Black people. On her Facebook page she posted such things as "Being a black person in America is very, very hard...Black lives matter. They matter." One of her last postings reads “If we can get enough white people to show that all lives matter, maybe they'll stop killing our black brothers… Show me in American history where all lives mattered.” 

On July 17 over 100 people in Hempstead protested the death of Sandra Bland while in police custody. People questioned how a supposedly routine traffic stop ended with the death of a young Black woman. They demanded to get to the bottom of this story, and pledged to continue protesting against this and other racist injustices in Waller County. It is utterly outrageous and unacceptable that the life of Sandra Bland is over. Whatever the exact circumstances of her death were—the racist cops of Waller County are responsible.


Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

REVOLUTION AND RELIGION The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Bob Avakian
BA Speaks: Revolution Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live
BAsics from the Talks and Writings of Bob Avakian
Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism
You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation Its History and Our Future Interview with Raymond Lotta