Sandra Bland Joins Long List of Black Women to Die in Police Custody


There are more questions than answers surrounding the mysterious death of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman from Chicago who died while in jail after being arrested during a traffic stop in Texas. The Waller County Sheriff's Office claims Bland, a vocal activist against police brutality, committed suicide. However, as previously reported, "The Waller County Jail is trying to rule her death a suicide and Sandy would not have taken her own life," longtime friend LaNitra Dean told WLS-TV. "Sandy was strong. Strong mentally and spiritually."

Video footage of Bland's arrest has also called the sheriff's office's account into question. It shows two male officers using a great deal of force with Bland. "You slammed my head into the ground, do you not even care about that?" Bland says in the video, which was shot by a passerby. "I can't even hear." 

The questions surrounding Bland's arrest, imprisonment and death are leading many to add her name to a long list of black women who have had deadly confrontations with police. According to Kate Abbey-Lambertz at the Huffington Post, these are some of the women on that list:

Tanisha Anderson was a 37-year-old woman struggling with mental illness who died after Cleveland police slammed her head into the pavement outside of her family's home in 2014.

Miriam Carey was a 34-year-old dental hygienist who made a wrong turn near the White House and was fatally shot by federal law enforcement officers in 2013. 

Yvette Smith was a 47-year-old woman who was shot and killed by Texas police officers as she opened the door to her home for police in 2014. 

Natasha McKenna was 37 years old when she was restrained by Virginia police, shackled at the legs and shot with a stun gun four times earlier this year. She stopped breathing and died at a hospital several days later. 

Rekia Boyd was a 22-year-old woman living in Chicago when she was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.

Mya Hall was a 27-year-old transgender woman who was shot and killed by National Security Agency guards after crashing a car into a government facility. 

Shelly Frey was a 27-year-old mother of two who was shot by Wal-Mart security who accused her of shoplifting. 

Darnisha Harris was only a teenager when Louisiana law enforcement officials fired two shots into the car she was driving in 2012.

Malissa Williams, 30, died after Cleveland police fired 137 times into the car that she was riding in with Timothy Russell. 

Alesia Thomas was 35 when she was kicked to death by a Los Angeles Police officer. 

Shantel Davis was 23 when she was shot and killed by plainclothes New York Police officers in Brooklyn in 2012. 

Shereese Francis, 29, had mental illness and died after NYPD officers arrived at her home to help her family transport her to a local hospital. Four officers pressed on her back to handcuff her, and lawyers for the family later sued, saying they suffocated Francis. 

Aiyana Stanley-Jones was only 7 when Detroit police officers barged into her family's home with their guns drawn, shooting her in the head.

Tarika Wilson, 26, was killed and her 14-month-old son was wounded in 2008 after Ohio police opened fire in her home.

Kathryn Johnson was 92 years old when she was shot and killed by Atlanta police officers in a botched 2006 raid. 

Alberta Spruill was 57 when she died after NYPD officers mistakenly threw a stun grenade into her home.

Kendra James was 21 when she was killed by Portland police officers in 2003.

Chicago Tribune/Getty Images

The list goes on: This is no means an exhaustive or detailed list, but it's one filled with names that, by and large, have not incited widespread outrage over police actions. "Their funerals aren't the site of activism, their mothers don't get invited to the State of the Union or the White House as a symbol of commitment to eliminating this problem," Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, told Mic's Derrick Clifton earlier this year. "That element of erasure sends a message that these losses of life don't matter."

While such outrage has swept the nation over the extrajudicial killings of black men like Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Walter Scott in South Carolina and Eric Garner in New York City, comparatively less attention has been given to these black women. According to experts, this blind spot by the media has dangerous policy implications. A report released earlier this year by the African American Policy Forum found a "failure to highlight and demand accountability for the countless black women killed by police over the past two decades ... leaves black women unnamed and thus underprotected in the face of their continued vulnerability to racialized police violence."

Bland herself was deeply politicized on issues of police brutality. In April, she shared the following on social media: