Sandra Bland: No Need to Apologize for Standing Up to Oppressors!

August 3, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

In the wake of the release of the dash-cam video of Sandra Bland’s arrest, many, many people have been very shaken by what happened, and quite a few have stepped forward to express their outrage at the provocation, bullying, and brutality of the cop who arrested her. This is a very good thing.

But all too often I have heard commentators follow this righteous outrage at the police with defensive “explanations” of Sandra Bland’s handling of the situation—specifically that Sandra was not deferential to the cop, and in fact expressed first her irritation at being unjustly pulled over, and then her increasing anger as she was unjustly arrested and brutalized.

I have heard people say, “Maybe she was having a bad day...,” or “maybe this wasn’t the best tactic...,” or “it’s no crime to be mouthy.” I even heard one young Black comic say that the lesson for him was that “if an officer stops me, I’m just going to get in the back seat of the patrol car and wait for him to put the handcuffs on.”


Keeping our heads down and “staying safe” abides by the logic of the oppressors. That they have all the power and what the people should do is submit. Again, NO!

Any justice-loving person should be PROUD and INSPIRED by the way Sandra Bland conducted herself. In the face of a bogus traffic stop for not signaling on a road with no traffic on it, and with the full knowledge and understanding that the police can and do kill Black people for things like this or for nothing at all—and get away with it!—Sandra Bland refused to be submissive and apologetic.

She did not cower and grovel; she did not say “oh, I’m so sorry officer, I must have forgotten...,” or smile or in any way try to hide her sense of injustice. She told the cop, calmly but plainly, why she thought it was unjust, while acknowledging that he had the power to do it. When ordered to put out her cigarette in her own car she legitimately questioned the cop’s right to do that. When ordered out of the car she insisted on knowing why and attempted to call her lawyer.

Even when threatened directly with a Taser—potentially deadly force—she loudly protested, and her protests continued—loud enough to draw the attention of bystanders—even as she was held down and handcuffed by the cops. In fact, this is how the story of what happened to her first came to our attention, through the video of a bystander who was some distance away from her arrest.

In other words, even in the scary and difficult situation she found herself in, Sandra Bland acted as a conscious fighter against police brutality, trying to resist and expose injustice, and to alert other people to what was happening.

What is WRONG with any of this? Shouldn’t all of us strive to have that spirit and that courage when confronted with injustice?

Now in saying this, I am not trying to be glib, or gloss over the fact Sandra ultimately had her life snatched away from her. I understand the logic that says that the best way to stay safe in any encounter with the police is total submission. (Though that is definitely NOT a “guarantee”—for instance, how many Black men have been shot while calmly reaching for their identification?)

Vigil for Sandra Bland, Chicago, July 28Vigil for Sandra Bland, July 28, Chicago. (AP photo)

But while starting from “how do I stay safe” might seem like “a good tactic,” it in fact contributes and leads to people staying enslaved. The bar keeps moving lower... more and more submission and acquiescence is demanded and people are reduced to broken wretches. The whole point of the way police conduct themselves with Black and Brown people, and in many ways even with people more broadly, is to produce a compliant population, to telegraph to people, especially the most oppressed, day in and day out, that no matter how fucked over you are, no matter how outrageous the authorities are, no matter how unjust the society is, no matter how much unjustified and unnecessary pain and suffering you and those you love are going through, you had damn well better accept it quietly... or it will get even worse! And that is true—any form of serious resistance, even on a low level, will be met with violent suppression by the enforcers of this system.

There is actually no way to “get around this,” to “finesse” it. We should appreciate and uphold the courage in what Sandra Bland did, but the point is not that if everyone does the same, that is enough, by itself, to end this police terror. The point is that we need to learn from her attitude and increase the ability and capacity of the people to organize and put an end to these horrors. We need to build a movement that embodies the spirit she showed. If the people as a whole are going to get free of this horrible oppressive society and these brutal and inhuman rulers, then individual people—millions of us—are going to have to actually increase the personal risk we confront, because we know for a fact—a historical fact and a fact we see playing out every damn day—that this system wields a lot of capacity for violence and they will use it in a heartbeat when they perceive their interests, or even their “authority,” are being undermined in any way.

Again, we need MUCH, MUCH MORE than simply individuals behaving courageously in encounters with police, like Sandra Bland did. And we even need MUCH, MUCH MORE than masses of defiant youths behaving courageously in the streets, like the defiant youths of Ferguson and then in Baltimore.

We need a REVOLUTION, and for that we need a REVOLUTIONARY PEOPLE, which means millions of people being ready and willing to stand up to the full viciousness and violence of this system, millions of people willing even to risk death as part of bringing about a new world fit for human beings. That is INDISPENSABLE for liberation.

But we will never GET TO THAT, we will never get to millions standing up in a fully conscious and revolutionary way, if our point of departure is “staying safe,” and if we do not respect, appreciate, and defend the spirit that Sandra Bland showed of putting justice above safety, even when by herself, and in the lair of the beast.

We need to appreciate it, we need to learn from it, we need to build on it, and we need to spread it, as part of forging a revolutionary people, and getting ready for the time when all that courage and defiance can be focused like a laser on the system that holds us all down, can become a powerful force taking that down, and then with that same courage, forging a new world.


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