One year ago today, 28-year-old Sandra Bland was found dead in a Texas jail cell with a trash bag wrapped around her neck.
State Trooper Brian Encinia had arrested Bland for assault on a public servant three days earlier during a routine traffic stop. Dashcam video showed threats by Encinia to “light [Bland] up” — Taser in-hand — following her refusal to put out a cigarette. It sparked national outrage and inspired the Twitter hashtags #SayHerName and #IfIDieInJail.
Encinia was subsequently fired and in March pleaded not guilty to perjury charges associated with the incident. He is currently awaiting trial.
The July 13, 2015, tragedy was the latest in a steady stream of high-profile examples of excessive brutality and racial bias forced on African-Americans by police officers, activists said.
But the controversial circumstances surrounding the arrest and death of the Chicago native, who was en route to a new job at alma mater Prairie View A&M, also thrust the issue of community and media misogynoir into the spotlight last summer.
Critics wondered why the Black woman’s death was not receiving the same level of coverage or nationwide protests as those of Ferguson, Missouri teen Michael Brown or Staten Island-native Eric Garner.
On the one-year anniversary, groups around the country gather to remember Bland with vigils and memorial services.
Family and supporters will gather for a vigil in Chicago’s Federal Plaza Wednesday at 9 p.m. One of Bland’s sisters will lead the candlelight event, organized by Black Lives Matter Chicago and Women’s All Points Bulletin, a non-profit group dedicated to ending violence against women during policing encounters, the Chicago Daily Herald reports.
“All these memorials for women are to remind people that women are absolutely a part of this conversation, this narrative, and we are taking leadership in this fight,” CEO Crista Noel told the Daily Herald.
The DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Bland grew up, has scheduled special candle-lighting services for Sunday, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Church pastor Rev. James Miller told the newspaper the services were meant to provide hope and healing for family members as well as parishioners who supported Bland throughout her life.
“We need to continue to intentionally work toward equity,” he told the Tribune, referencing the events of the past week. “The African-American community cannot be the only ones talking about civil rights and equity. It’s when white people start talking about it that real action can take place,” he added.
In Prairie View, Texas, supporters gathered Monday outside the university where Bland was pulled over for failure to signal a lane change, per KHOU. The group said it would spend that night and Tuesday and Wednesday evenings in front of the Waller County jail where Bland died.