Texas civil rights activist Sandra Bland used social media to speak about police brutality and how countless black people have been killed while in police custody.
Now, Bland’s name is being added to that long list of dead black people
Bland, 28, was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction in Waller County, Texas on July 10. Police arrested Bland after she allegedly assaulted an officer. A bystander recorded the arrest, which shows several police officers restraining Bland on the ground as she questions why they are being so rough.
She was then held in police custody for three days before she was found dead in her jail cell last Monday. Authorities are calling it suicide by hanging.
In recent days, social justice activists have taken to social media to show solidarity with those affected by police violence while expressing concerns about their own safety.
#IfIDieInPoliceCustody question everything. Don't believe a word they say. Demand the truth by any means necessary.
— ShordeeDooWhop (@Nettaaaaaaaa) July 17, 2015
The trending hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody is an acute reflection of what it is like to be black in America, and captures the fear black people face on a daily basis in a nation where being killed by the police is becoming a norm.
Even though the deaths of African Americans in custody in recent weeks took place in Texas and Alabama, local social justice activists like the Bay Area Activist Coalition's Chardonnay Singleton have also taken to Twitter to show their solidarity and vent their own fears:
If I die in police custody
I DID NOT committ suicide
I was MURDERED
— char Singleton (@char_singleton) July 17, 2015
Black people are using the heartbreaking hashtag to write notes to friends, family and the public to let them know that if they were to die while in police custody, it would not be of their own doing.
As black people are killed off one-by-one and charges are dropped for police officers involved in the deaths, black people have to find ways to protect themselves from being abused by police or killed while in police custody.
Social media has been increasingly used as a tool to raise awareness about police brutality, especially through publishing and disseminating witness videos. It is also being used to empower black people to stand up for their own rights and declare that black lives matter.
A few days later, another black woman was found dead in an Alabama jail cell. According to officials, 18-year-old Kindra Darnell Chapman used a bed sheet to hang herself.
News of Chapman’s death broke the same day questions surrounding Bland’s alleged suicide surfaced. Although police claim that Bland committed suicide, her family and friends do not believe Bland would kill herself, according to CNN.
"Based on the Sandy I knew, this is unfathomable to me," Sharon Cooper, one of Bland's sisters, told reporters in Chicago. "People who knew her, truly knew her, the depth of her, that's unfathomable right now."
The FBI joined an investigation with the Texas Rangers on Bland’s death Thursday, according to Huffington Post. The Texas Department of Public Safety announced that it had “identified violations of the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy,” in Bland's arrest.
A country where a hashtag like #IfIDieInPoliceCustody can trend has lost any claim to being a democracy.
— Sofia Quintero (@sofiaquintero) July 17, 2015
People are using #IfIDieInPoliceCustody to demand that the public question everything they are told, especially when black people are killed while in the hands of the police.
Social media users have also been using the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName and #WhatHappenedToSandraBland to garner attention around police brutality.
Tensions are rising in America as black lives are disposed of on a regular basis. In the past few years, social media has been an essential tool in giving a voice to the voiceless.
Now, it is time for us to listen.