A few years ago, I shared a Reuters story about a restaurant owner in Turkey who was shot dead after he tried to stop customers from smoking in his establishment.
Some Americans laughed at the killing, as if to say “That’s Turkey for ya.”
I suppose their dismissal was code for “This could never happen in America.”
Here’s where I remind you that Sandra Bland’s arrest by Texas trooper Brian Encinia—an event which seemed to be the catalyst behind Sandra Bland’s 72-hour countdown to her last day on earth—started because she would not extinguish the cigarette she was smoking in her car.
In a country where its constitution and professed civility are supposed to protect Bland’s right to smoke in her car—regardless of how disgusting you may think a cigarette habit is.
But what’s equally disturbing about Sandra Bland’s demise is the manner in which many of you are treating this murder of Bland’s civil rights—as if you’re dealing with just another Microsoft Windows glitch.
You would rather “Work around the problem.”
Y’know, “Live with it.”
In other words, you choose give this violation of one’s rights its own right to exist because you think the problem is here to stay.
You blamed Trayvon Martin for wearing a hoodie.
You blamed Tamir Rice for being a kid and holding a toy gun.
You blamed Freddie Gray for his fatal ride in a police van.
You blamed the fashion choices of thousands of young African descendants for why they are routine targets for police roundups.
And you now blame Sandra Bland’s death on her refusal to put out a cigarette while sitting in her car.
Sure, there’s a chance—perhaps—that I wouldn’t have to write about #WhatHappenedToSandraBland if the young lady obeyed Officer Encinia’s order and extinguished her cigarette.
But many of you miss the larger point.
Since the days of American slavery, African descendants and their allies have tried to use America’s own constitution as a leverage tactic to win equal rights.
But we continue to see individuals and institutions use outrageous methods over the decades to circumvent the US Constitution and give rights violations the oxygen it doesn’t deserve.
Remember Plessy v. Ferguson?
The Dred Scott decision?
The Three-Fifths Compromise?
The current voter ID laws passed by state legislatures and the US Supreme Court’s recent evisceration of the Voting Rights Act?
Hell, the fact that we even needed legislation to codify voting rights—something we justifiably thought was already provisioned in the US Constitution—proves how the application of equal rights’ is both subjective and elusive.
This is why ignoring Sandra Blake’s rights and then blaming her for getting arrested is like joining Officer Encinia in a chorus to recite former Chief Justice Roger B. Taney‘s thoughts in 1857:
[Black people in America] were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the government might choose to grant them.
song currently stuck in my head: “compassion, part 1” – Cecil McBee sextet w/ chico freeman