Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sandra Bland & Driving While Black

Sandra Bland #SayHerName
We don't know how Sandra Bland (#SayHerName) ended up dead in police custody after an unnecessary, ultimately violent traffic stop and arrest in one of the scarier parts of Texas, at least if you are driving while black.  Waller County Texas has a history of racial tension, a police chief who was fired from the nearby town of Hempstead for unremitting racist behavior; and Waller County, on the edge of Harris County and the Houston municipal limits,  is in the part of the state where police departments make lots of money from stop and seize activities.

A friend, who like me, has enjoyed the freedom of driving as part of our training and consulting activities, commented about how much what happened to Sandra Bland frightened her.  And I share the same worry, especially when crossing the Mason-Dixon line (although central PA always gives me pause).

I once researched a non-fiction piece to answer the question, in how many states, between Maine and the panhandle of Florida, would I find the confederate flag? This was in 2004.  I loaded up the Brown Dog, and we set off from Boston on a 3 day drive -- we had been in Maine and NH earlier, which is why I wanted to write the piece.  The important detail here is the Brown Dog.  Of course I found the confederate flag, stuck to, flapping from or emblazoned on something in every state, from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts (South Boston of course),  New York, and just over the line in the Pennsylvania town of Milford, on a flagpole in front of the cigar shop in its historic district.  I was not surprised, and only appalled once, in West Virginia at the site of Booker T. Washington's first home house in freedom, a truck perpetually parked nearby, a battle flag prominently affixed to its bumper.

Brown Dog was my Co-Pilot
But this post isn't about the flag.  It's about the security I felt with my 60 pound lab/shepherd mix by my side.  An utterly harmless dog who seemed to strike terror in the minds of men.  Brownie, the Brown Dog, traveled the country with me, north and south.  He passed on in 2008, to be with the elders who he had
known and loved.  And every year without him, I am a little more fearful about driving alone.

And isn't this the point of terrorism?  To deprive us of the freedom to go where we please, do what we want, enjoy this country as most white men believe it is their right to enjoy this country? (I know white women think they have this unvarnished right but that is only because of their misplaced faith in white supremacy.  They forget to look over their shoulders at the patriarchal vengeance that seeks to keep them in check.)

#SayHerName Brief, AAPF
I have no words of encouragement, no analysis that relieves the unease I feel -- many Black women feel, most Black men feel -- that in those uninvited interactions with the enforcement mechanisms of white supremacy, the local and state police agencies, our lives do not matter.  We can't be respectable enough, educated enough, dignified enough, distinguished enough, docile enough.  So we might as well resist and disrupt with all our might.

"When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."  Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals, p. 13

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