I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. It’s powerful — I woke up in the middle of the night last night, and had to read a bit more, and then I had a tough time getting back to sleep afterwards. There’s this bit where he’s talking about the terror he felt on being pulled over by the police in PG County, and the dread he felt at the arbitrary abuse by police of black people at traffic stops, and his friend who was gunned down by a policeman, and I am marveling at this strange world I’ve never had to experience. When I’ve been pulled over, what I feel is annoyance, and a bit of self-blaming, and concern that I might get a ticket, nothing more. Driving while white is easy.
Then this morning I get up and the first news I see is that the dash-cam video of Sandra Bland’s arrest has been released.
She was pulled over for failing to signal during a lane change. When he walks up to the window to give her a warning, he asks her what’s wrong — I presume she looked annoyed — and she is blunt and tells him why. Then he tells her to put out her cigarette, and she refuses. And for that, he arrests her, manhandles out of her car, and roughs her up offscreen.
She’s put in jail, and is dead three days later, they say because she hanged herself.
This is unbelievable. Three days in jail and dead, for failing to signal a lane change? By what right is that policeman telling her she can’t smoke in her own car? What was he arresting her for? For being uppity? What was the cause for threatening to tase her, for handcuffing her, for putting her in jail?
There’s nothing in the video to show that Bland was in the wrong. She was angry but calm until the cop decided that a civilian disagreeing with him was cause to open the door and physically drag her out and arrest her. If you watch through the whole thing, the cop spends a fair amount of time justifying his actions to the camera: he was just trying to “calm her down”, and that she was “resisting arrest”. It was all her fault! She was assaulting him!
It was chilling to listen to him rationalize the event immediately after the fact — and nothing he said made his actions OK. This is a man who does not question his power to do great harm to the people he’s supposed to protect.
Coates is right. Read his book. It’ll change how you see the world.