Mourning Sandra Bland

Truth: I’m writing this blog post with one eye glued to Houston Chronicle reporter Leah Binkovitz’s tweets. In the last week, Binkovitz and her fellow Chronicle reporters Jayme Fraser and St. John B. Smith have provided stellar, up-to-date coverage of all things Sandra Bland and — at this particular moment — Binkovitz is live-tweeting a press conference with prosecutor Elton Mathis.

A lot has happened since last week when I first wrote about Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman who died in jail — by hanging herself with a trash bag in her cell, according to law enforcement — after being arrested during a traffic stop. Discrepancies in Bland’s intake forms have fueled rumors that she was murdered and the county is trying to cover it up, as have questions about Bland’s mugshot and the prosecution’s emphasis on Bland’s use of marijuana. (Many see the latter as an attempt to smear Bland’s character and to justify her death.)

Ever the cautious journalist, I’m not one to jump on board with conspiracy theories. I think it’s good that an independent review committee will oversee the prosecution’s investigation into possible criminal conduct surrounding both Bland’s death and her arrest, but I can’t join the chorus of people claiming this is all a cover-up.

Still, Bland’s death weighs on me. I mean, I’m always saddened by a loss of life, but this is different. I didn’t know Sandra Bland, but I think about her a lot. I’m sad a lot. I feel compelled to read everything there is about her death, but, at the same time, reading these stories makes me physically ill. This weekend, I attended a public prayer vigil organized by the Kansas City chapters of Sigma Gamma Rho, Bland’s sorority. I think I was looking for a safe place to mourn. And a place where I would be surrounded by people who were also mourning.

The vigil was short, largely because we were outside and it has been absurdly hot here in Kansas City, but it was still raw and honest. One Sigma Gamma Rho sister who is also a preacher read from Isaiah and grieved over the cultural place black women find themselves in today. She lamented the fact that black women who did what they were “supposed to” by getting college educations and learning their rights as citizens — that those women still cannot assume they will walk away with their lives after interacting with law enforcement officials. As she spoke, some of her sorority sisters cried. Some shouted amen. But I think they all understood.

I understood.

This week on Global Sisters Report, we’ve got a column from Holy Spirit Sr. Tessy Jacob about the Panyiar community of southern India. Specifically, she talks about how these people have historically been treated as less than human. Jacob is not a Panyiar, but her ministry at a Jesuit center includes them. She shares the story of a well-educated Paniyar woman named Preetha Velian who advocates for her people instead of leaving them behind.

Velian reminds me of those other sisters, the Sigma Gamma Rho sisters, who are also committed to helping their people. At the end of the vigil, they surrounded a photo of Sandra Banks, held hands and sang their sorority hymn. The hymn ends with the sisters cheering, “Greater service, greater progress.”

Amen.

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is Global Sisters Report staff writer, based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_cherie]

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