Last Friday, 28-year-old Sandra Bland was arrested during a traffic stop after allegedly assaulting a police officer. On Monday morning, hours before she was scheduled to be released on $5,000 bail, Bland was found dead.
The Waller County Sheriff’s Office deemed the death suicide, a “tragic accident” “from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation.” Bland’s friends and family have contested these statements. Bland had recently moved to Texas from the Chicago suburbs and was supposed to start a new job as a college outreach officer at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, on Wednesday. One person who knew Bland emailed NBC Chicago, writing, “Family and friends have no doubt that foul play was involved in this alleged suicide.”
Bland often posted videos about race and the recent debate over use of force by law enforcement on Facebook under the banner, “Sandy Speaks.” “Being a black person in America is very, very hard,” she said in one recent video. “Show me in American history where all lives matter.”
On Wednesday, ABC7 in Chicago released video shot by a bystander of the traffic stop that led to Bland’s death. She was pulled over by a state trooper for not signaling a lane change. In the video, Bland tells the officer, “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that?” The trooper tells the person shooting the video to leave. As Bland is taken away, she repeats, “You slammed me into the ground and everything.” Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith told ABC7 that Bland “had been combative on the side of the road.”
The sheriff relayed more details about Bland’s death to NBC Chicago. According to Smith, around 9 a.m. on Monday, “One of the female jailers went to the door to see if she wanted to go to the rec yard. She hollered for help, they started CPR. And unfortunately, couldn’t revive her.” An hour before, she reportedly talked to a supervisor about making a phone call.
The questions about Bland’s death have led Texas to launch a formal investigation. The Texas Rangers, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the Texas Attorney General, and the Waller County District Attorney’s Office will all be involved. Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis told reporters, “I understand there’s some disbelief among some friends and family that she would do this to herself.”
Those who knew Bland — and thousands more people online — also want federal authorities to get involved. A Change.org petition asking the Justice Department to take over the case has more than 3,500 signatures. The New York Times reports that more than 24,000 people have used the hashtag #SandraBland — the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland are also everywhere on social-media platforms.