By Ebony S. Muhammad
PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas – During a prayer vigil at Prairie View A & M University on July 19 for Sandra Bland, many questions were continuously raised about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the young, Black woman’s death.
What police are calling a suicide by hanging in a jail cell, is being loudly disputed and refuted by her family members, friends and activists who want a detailed investigation into what they allege could be foul play. An outspoken voice against police brutality and abuses with a bright future ahead of her, Sandra Bland would not have killed herself argued those who knew her best.
Ms. Bland, 28, was in the middle of relocating from her hometown of Naperville, a Chicago suburb, to Prairie View, Texas to begin her dream job at her alma mater Prairie View A&M University. She was set to start July 15. However, according to reports, on Monday, July 13, she was found hanging with a plastic bag around her neck in a Waller County jail, located approximately 50 miles outside of Houston after her arrest 3 days earlier for a minor traffic violation. Family members and friends are refusing to believe that she would take her own life and are demanding answers.
“I do suspect foul play. I believe that we are all 100 percent in belief that she did not do harm to herself,” Cheryl Nanton, a friend of Ms. Bland, told reporters.
LaNitra Dean accused officials of trying to rule her death a suicide but argued that her friend would not have taken her own life. “Sandy was strong. Strong mentally and spiritually,” said Ms. Dean.
On July 10, Ms. Bland was pulled over for a traffic violation by a Texas Department Public Safety Officer for failing to signal before changing lanes. Authorities claim her arrest was due to Ms. Bland being “argumentative and uncooperative”. She was charged with assault on a public servant.
Her friend Malcolm Jackson witnessed the encounter, a video of which was posted online and has since gone viral on the internet and via social media.
“After he [the police officer] pulled her out of the car, forced her and tossed her to the ground, knee to the neck, and arrested her,” Mr. Jackson told a local ABC affiliate. Video footage shows Ms. Bland pinned to the ground by the officer with his knees in her back, with another officer standing over her.
“You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear,” she can be heard telling officers. Before being placed in the squad car, Ms. Bland thanks a bystander for recording the incident.
The next afternoon, she was allowed to make phone calls to friends and to her older sister Shante Needham. In a press July 16 press conference Ms. Needham told reporters her sister told her she was not told the reason for her arrest until an hour before calling her. Her bail was set at $5,000 at a hearing July 11.
According to Ms. Needham, her sister told her the officer put his knees in her back and she thought her shoulder was broken. Ms. Needham said her sister seemed very aggravated and in pain. Ms. Needham and Mr. Jackson said the plan was to bail her out on the same day she was found unresponsive and dead in her cell.
Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith who was previously fired from a law enforcement position for allegations of racism, said Ms. Bland was seen in her cell at 7 a.m. and jailers spoke to her via intercom at 8 a.m. Then at approximately 9 a.m. a female jailer found her in the cell dead.
Officials said Ms. Bland used a trash bag to hang herself from a partition separating the bed area and the bathroom. According to the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, the autopsy said she died from apparent “self-inflicted asphyxiation.” Tricia Bentley, spokeswoman for the Harris County Institute for Forensic Sciences, said the death had been ruled a suicide by hanging. The investigation into her death is being conducted by the FBI and Texas Rangers.
Shauna Dunlap, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Houston office, told The Final Call they are monitoring and assisting but until the local process is complete they are not able to do a separate investigation. Ms. Dunlap added, they are not sure how long the local process by the Texas Rangers will take, but until then they are not able to move forward.
In an interview July 16 with local news, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said she would be contacting the Department of Justice and asking officials there to further inquire into Ms. Bland’s death.
Texas authorities have suggested mental illness played a role in her death. In online videos she posted earlier this year Ms. Bland spoke of being depressed and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She may have used the term depression, but that statement in March had very little to do with her mindset before she died her family’s attorney, Cannon Lambert Sr., told MSNBC.