Woman who died in jail in Texas mourned

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - WORLD -

LISLE, Ill. — Fam­ily and friends of an Illi­nois woman found dead in a Texas jail re­mem­bered her Satur­day as a “coura­geous voice” for so­cial jus­tice and promised to keep fight­ing for clar­ity on the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing her death.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple at­tended San­dra Bland’s fu­neral near the Chicago sub­urb where she grew up. They cel­e­brated her life with words and songs of praise, and her mother danced in the church aisle with her arms raised. She and other mourn­ers, though, said they were still strug­gling to un­der­stand how a traf­fic stop for fail­ing to use a turn sig­nal es­ca­lated into a phys­i­cal con­fronta­tion and landed her in the cell where author­i­ties say she killed her­self three days later.

The Harris County, Texas, med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice de­ter­mined through an au­topsy Bland hanged her­self with a plas­tic bag. The 28-year- old woman’s fam­ily has ques­tioned the find­ing, say­ing she was ex­cited about start­ing a new job and wouldn’t have taken her own life.

“I’m go­ing to find out what hap­pened to my baby,” her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said in re­marks that brought mourn­ers to their feet. “My baby has spo­ken. She’s still speak­ing and no, she didn’t kill her­self.”

The traf­fic stop, which was cap­tured on po­lice dash-cam video and on a by­stander’s cell­phone, and Bland’s death in cus­tody have res­onated on so­cial media, with many group­ing it with other prom­i­nent U.S. cases in­volv­ing con­fronta­tions be­tween the po­lice and blacks over the past year.

Bland had spo­ken out about that is­sue and oth­ers in a se­ries of videos she posted online this year with the hash­tag “SandyS­peaks.”

Mourn­ers at Satur­day’s fu­neral wore T-shirts with the tag. One per­son had it scrawled across a car win­dow. Some took to Twit­ter with the hash­tag “SandySTILLS­peaks.”

Crowds filed past her open casket to catch a last glimpse of Bland, who was dressed in an all-white suit with roses on top of her.

The July 10 traf­fic stop be­came heated when Bland re­fused the of­fi­cer’s re­quest to put out a cig­a­rette and his sub­se­quent or­der to get out of the car. He threat­ened to shoot Bland with a stun gun un­less she obeyed his or­der and said she kicked him dur­ing the tus­sle. He has been placed on leave pend­ing the out­come of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Rev. Theresa Dear told re­porters out­side the DuPage African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church Bland should be cel­e­brated for stand­ing up for her­self.

“She chal­lenged and asked the ques­tion why, ‘Why should I put out the cig­a­rette?’ ” Dear said. “She asked 12 times, ‘Why am I be­ing ar­rested?’ And so we celebrate that part of her per­son­al­ity.”

She said friends and fam­ily con­tinue to doubt author­i­ties, even af­ter the re­lease of doc­u­ments sup­port­ing the of­fi­cial con­clu­sion of sui­cide.

“When you are about to start a new job, when you know your fam­ily is about to bring the money for your re­lease, when you are an ac­tivist and a fighter, you don’t take your own life,” she said.

Bland’s story so moved peo­ple her fu­neral even drew some who never met her.

“I don’t know San­dra, and I don’t know what hap­pened,” Hank Brown, of Chicago, told the Chicago Tri­bune. “But I do know she didn’t have to die. There’s an epi­demic of po­lice terror in this coun­try, and peo­ple need to stand up.”

COUR­TESY OF THE BLAND FAM­ILY

San­dra Bland: fu­neral in home­town of Chicago

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