Failure to Comply

As featured on Medium.

On July 10th, Sandra Bland was pulled over by an officer for failure to signal a lane change.

By the end of the hour, she would be arrested. By the end of the day, she would be in jail. By next week, she would be found dead in her own cell in what was ruled a suicide.

The frenzy of media coverage would focus on whether or not Sandra Bland had indeed killed herself, with her family insisting that she never would have done such a thing, leading to speculation that she died post-arrest in what was made to look like a suicide.

To me, that is the wrong question. Is it possible that Sandra Bland died of complications arising from having her head slammed into the ground? Possibly. During her arrest, she reported hearing loss and not being able to feel her arm (a symptom of a concussion), and she had epilepsy, something reported .

But as I’ve written about previously, I find suicide under her circumstances fundamentally plausible.

It is not enough to ask how she ended up dead in jail, when the simpler question is how she ended up in jail at all.

Sandra Bland was forced out of her car at taser-point, slammed into the ground, and arrested for one simple action: Failure to Comply. She neglected to do exactly what she was told, when she was told it, without talking back. Because she was unwilling to be a “good nigger”. Because she refused to be treated like a slave.

That is not to say that there is not at least some need for police to be able to issue lawful orders in the course of their duty. However, those orders need to be clearly phrased and germane to promoting safety.

All too often, “resisting arrest” simply means “moving away from the officer” or “moving towards the officer”, or “moving too slowly” or “moving too quickly”, or “talking back” or “not talking enough”. In some cases, police simply escalate violence on somebody who is doing nothing at all, or in Sandra Bland’s case, asking to know why she was being arrested.

In New York, a man was tackled to the ground by 6 officers while onlookers were threatened with mace, simply because he tried to close up his shop before presenting his ID. Simply because he asked “what are you going to do, arrest me?”

In each of these situations, the implication by officers is clear:

My whims are more important than yours
My safety is more important than yours

This is a complete rejection of the police’s supposed role as protectors and public servants, and instead reveals their complicity as enforcers of white supremacy, as reminders that American society has always been set up under the assumption that blacks should do as they’re told, and with a smile.

That is the ultimate face of racism, not police brutality, not systemic bias, but a simple thought:

I am better than you
You are nothing

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