Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): Briefly share how you became actively involved as an organizer in the Waller County protest in honor of Sandra Bland. Did you know her personally? Do you have an experience with Waller County police or systemic injustice in general?
Steven Orozco (SO): I never had the pleasure of knowing Sandra, and luckily I have never fallen into Waller County hands the few times I traveled to Austin. Blessed to say in my few interactions with police where things could have gone potentially bad for me, the situation never led to brutality or incarceration. But I recognized the injustice in America by 2006 when Sean Bell in NY was murdered, when I too was preparing for marriage. The murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 stirred my spirit restless. So I have been active in the protest scene since the non-indictment of Darren Wilson last fall.
(Photo via Steven Orozco’s Twitter account)
I met many committed individuals, including Secunda Joseph, all of whom are from different walks of life, religion, and gender. We came together to organize an event for the one year anniversary of the murder of Mike Brown, Aug 9th. This was three weeks before Sandra Bland’s abduction and eventual murder three days later. So once the story was out, one of the organizers that was participating in the Aug 9th event, Reverend Hannah Bonner, started sitting vigils with other activists. The group quickly decided to focus the event for the 9th to the direction of Waller County, which became the ‘Day of Remembrance and Response’.
(Photos via Jesse Muhammad’s Twitter account)
EM: How would you describe the Day of Remembrance and Response? What have these last few weeks been like in Waller County since?
SO: Waller County has gone through a period of discomfort early on and it maintained throughout. Reverend Bonner has been there every day and accompanied by mostly two other activists, whose names I would prefer not mentioned, but are two of the strongest black women I have ever met in my life. These three women witness the changes and interactions that many others, and the media have no knowledge of. But the tension had been building. During the weeks leading up to the event there had been many negative and a few positive interactions with the residents of the neighborhood and people at the jail itself. The PV students just returned to begin preparing for the semester this past week, so the interactions have been mostly with Sandra’s classmates and friends. We will know more about the atmosphere with the PV students this fall semester and hope to achieve productive community work.
(Photo via Steven Orozco’s Twitter account)
The Day of Remembrance and Response was a beautiful sight, I happened to take the opportunity to hold the speaker up high for all to hear when I noticed trouble hearing early on, so I was able to see the entire event unfold from that position up high. I saw the inspiration, the grief, the fire, and of course the confrontational brutality that is Waller County police. It was a beautiful sight, and just a bit sour at the end. Yet positivity remained for our return.
(Photo via Steven Orozco’s instagram account)
EM: Describe what that day was like coming back to Waller County jail finding the entrance had been blocked and that the tree that many protesters used for shade had been cut down?
SO: It was after the Sunday of the event, followed by the Monday confrontation with the Sheriff, Glenn Smith, caught on camera. Tuesday August 11th was a day where we moved under the tree at the corner of the parking lot which provided enough shade for three cars and enough space to sit all together comfortably.
(Photos via Steven Orozco’s Twitter account)
Towards the end of the day, the clouds began to gather and it was about to start raining, which was the first break in the then 20-plus days in summer heat of the sitting vigil. As we packed up we took a moment to circle around and holding hands to close a moment of reflection. We left, and then a few hours later, Reverend Bonner received text messages from Waller residents in the jail area, with pictures of the tree cut down. It rained for the rest of the night. The villain did what villains do. Show himself.
EM: Wow. Yes sir, indeed. Thank you so much for all you’re doing, along with others working with you, to keep the voice of justice resounding in Waller County in honor of Sandra Bland, her family and all those lives lost.
UPDATE: As of August 26th, the Prairie View city council passed a proposal to rename the road leading to Prairie View A&M University after Bland; Sandra Bland Memorial Parkway. That’s the same road where she was stopped for allegedly making an illegal lane change, removed from her car and arrested by state trooper Brian Encinia. (via HoustonPress.com) According to Omari Muhammad, PVU student, a campus monument has been discussed in honor of Sandra Bland.