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The Assassination of Sandra Bland and the Struggle Against State Repression


The Assassination of Sandra Bland and the Struggle Against State Repression

Ajamu Baraka

During the struggle in South Africa black activists who were captured by the state had a strange habit of jumping to their deaths from the windows of jails and court houses whenever the authorities would turn their backs. In the U.S. the method of suicide black prisoners appear to choose is death by hanging, that is when they are unable to pull a gun from an officer and shoot themselves in the chest while handcuffed behind their backs.


An enormously powerful essay.

I’d suggest that people of good will --and that is most of us-- band together to elect mayors who will reform the police in their cities, making sure that the chief’s own job and pension is on the line for any misbehavior by his subordinates.

It’s the only way to be sure.


From the video it can be heard that Ms. Bland created an adversarial relationship with the officer who had just pulled her over to give her a ticket for lane changing without signalling. I know it is hard to not mouth off to a police officer, who is giving you a ticket, but it isn’t a good idea for anyone.


It isn’t a good idea only because cops ignore the directives that enjoin them from taking out their irritation on the citizen. Cops don’t have the right to become upset when in role.


How many people here have been stopped with a minor traffic infraction to be confronted by a belligerent, blowhard cop with an attitude?
I treat people the way I like to be treated, so if a police officer stops me, I am polite as I am to most people. If I am aware that I have done something wrong - such as running a red light, I admit to it and accept the citation and the fine.
But, let’s say the cop is having a bad day. And I have had belligerent people other than cops start things with me, because they are looking to vent and just about anyone is game. So, the cop jumps out of the vehicle as you are stopped, and starts yelling at you. You calmly comply to provide your papers and you say you are sorry they’re so upset. No matter what you say - it escalates the situation and the cop starts screaming in your face. The cop starts making up scenarios of what they are going to do if you as much as throw a piece of paper out of your car. (I do not litter, but I have witnessed cops doing it.)
I am always respectful to authority but when they disrespect me, I quietly resent them. And I do not respect them as human beings. I do not argue with them and I do not fight them. I try to de-escalate the situation even if the cop is going ape shit.
But there are some cops out there who don’t give a damn about the law. They bully people because they CAN. Some departments are managed better than others and have a better caliber of officers with better manners. But others, who think the law does not apply to them, create a PR problem and are bad for community relations. I am a law abiding citizen but I have no tolerance for cops who use their position to abuse people and intimidate the populace - especially the poor and minorities.


Baraka writes:

“The struggle in the U.S. must be placed in an anti-colonial context or we will find ourselves begging for the colonial state to violate the logic of its existence by pretending that it will end something called police brutality and state killings. The settler-state is serious about protecting white capitalist/colonialist power while we are still trapped in the language of liberal reformism demanding “justice” and accountability. Those demands are fine as transitional demands if we understand that those demands are just that - transitional. Authentic justice and liberation will only come when there is authentic de-colonization and revolutionary power in the hands of self-determinate peoples’ and oppressed classes and social groups.”

Nobody - not quite nobody, but very close - in the USA wants to think deeply through what it really means to be “anti-colonialist” and “anti-racist.” “Authentic justice” requires land redistribution; wealth redistribution; power removed from the operators of the system built on the historical legacy of colonialist genocide and slavery; “power in the hands of self-determinate peoples and oppressed classes and social groups.”

Scary! But until we face that fear and go there, the ongoing play-out of colonialist-legacy systems undermines all efforts to get social, and ecological, justice.

Who “owns” land, resources, wealth? Based on what? What would a just system look like? How do we address the deeply embedded injustice that permeates the entire economy and society?

“The settler-state is serious about protecting white capitalist/colonialist power while we are still trapped in the language of liberal reformism demanding “justice” and accountability. Those demands are fine as transitional demands if we understand that those demands are just that - transitional.”


As a white person, it would be easy and rational for me to think that all you have to do to avoid being abused or mistreated by police is be passive, polite and cooperative.
As someone who knows better, however, I know that that is an experience and a reality the rest of America cannot share or take part in. Persons of color often get dragged out of their cars, arrested, beaten, and dead doing just that. Once you have lived in Black skin and observed that anyone who looks like you, gets a boot to the teeth or on one’s neck for taking the trouble to bite back their words, play nice with the officer, it is a bit more difficult to do what a Middle Class White Lady such as myself would consider giving the officer his due respect and deference. Actually, she was very controlled, very respectful. As a MCWL, I have given more crap to grocery clerks, who certainly were not trying to ticket, arrest, harrass or beat me, only trying to bag my damn groceries and get me outa there before I made their shift even longer. OK, yea, I am an impatient and rude spoiled brat, but I have every confidence that even were I to give the same ration of bile to an officer pulling me over to warn me about a violation, I would not end up on the ground, beaten or arrested, and if arrested, I’d be out in no time for a far less draconian bail amount.


addendum: you are correct. whites get similar treatment when in organized groups protesting the status quo. BUT, not all riots are treated the same. White college kids wilding after a coach was forced to resign because he failed to properly follow up on an assistant coaches’ raping a child…they RIOTED, burned police cars and set other stuff on fire and carried on like crazy people…and the cops gently corralled them after letting the have their way for hours…the same day that several Occupy protesters in Berkeley were being teargassed and battered for just being Occupy protesters in Berkeley. And even then, those white protesters DID NOT get what they would have gotten had they and most of their co-protesters had been Black. White protesters, unless they all practice’ bail solidarity’…no one leaves till we all can leave… are often arrested, given a court date to appear and released without even a demand for bail.
Apparently one sacrifices a bit of white privelege when sticking up for anyone who MIGHT be black.


“I would not end up on the ground, beaten or arrested, and, if arrested, I’d be out in no time for a far less draconian bail amount.”

Sorry to burst your bubble, zuzupetals, but being white and/or middle class doesn’t make one immune to being abused by cops, especially if they’re on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. I still remember during the mid-1970’s and on, when mandatory school busing began in Boston, the TPF (the now-disbanded Tactical Patrol Force), was brought in to maintain order, but they often ended up being overly heavy-handed with poor whites and non-whites alike. It’s true that the cops were needed, because there would’ve been real mayhem and murder committed by the white mobs against the black students being bused into their neighborhoods than there already was, but had the Federal Marshalls been brought in to enforce the Federal Court-mandated School busing edict that took Boston by storm in the mid-1970’s, things wouldn’t gotten so out of control.


as a middle class white lady, i do not claim immunity, but the mere fact that i can have a bubble to burst on that score, IS the difference in treatment. I doubt that Black folk of any strata have such a bubble to burst. That is more or less my point.


There was no excuse for the cop’s egregious treatment of Sandra Bland, especially since it resulted in her death, but remember the incident when Kelly Thomas, a white homeless guy was beaten to death by cops just for camping out where they thought he shouldn’t have been? That, imho, was just as egregious and ugly, and if that’s not proof that whites aren’t immune to similar treatment by the cops (particularly poorer whites), then what is it? It may not happen as often to whites as it does to non-whites, but it does happen, nonetheless.

I also might add that during our involvement in Indo-China, Iraq, and other places, plenty of middle-to-upperclass white demonstrators…college kids, were beat up and seriously injured, and jailed by the cops, as well.


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Cops not being trained to diffuse tense situations."

I think, is the real root of the problem(s). What cops see every day is rather ugly–they see the seamiest side of life every day. I’d have to take issues with the notion that all people who choose to become cops are bullies, because that’s not the case, but I do think that cops often forget why they became cops to begin with–to help people. The fact that an awful lot of cops, at least here in the United States, are so poorly trained in diffusing unusually tense situations is what has produced the problem(s).


In total agreement…but I don’t think anyone said such things NEVER happen to white people, the issue is under what circumstances. Bucking the system is the primary excuse. Blacks and poor whites represent that failure to comply to white authority figures just by their color and culture or economic status…like homelessness and all the “crimes” associated with homelessness…(sleeping or being horozantal anywhere at anytime outside of a residence, using trees, bushes, hidden areas or the street as toilet facilities, lacking such amentities due to houselessness)… within the dominant culture…they’ve essentially outlawed poverty and homelessness. But, not all those most vulnerable to attack by the authorities are vulnerable strictly as an economics or political issue…being of color is a red flag waved in the face of the bull of authority, seen as a threat to the status quo and the dominant culture’s ‘community’. Black experience tells them that being docile and cooperative and non-confrontative gets them NOWHERE. Whites, by and large…not always, just mostly…yes sir no sir three bags full sir usually keeps trouble at bay when dealing with police. AND, fiesty whites, who are clearly middle class or beyond…can act like complete asshats and still not get the ticket. I know that white guys who have gone completely nuts and grabbed at the officers gun…and LIVED! That, baby, is white freaking privilege. Some of us have to travel pretty far off the reservation to get the treatment Black folks have to deal with day to day, minute to minute.


I’m not saying that police don’t disproportionately mistreat blacks and other non-whites, but try to realize that the poor and the powerless, regardless of ethnicity or color, are considerably more at risk for police brutality than are middle and/or upper-class whites. Many working-class whites, too, have begun to refuse to comply with the police with this sort of 'yes-sir or yes-ma’am" attitude. It began back in the late 1960’s/1970’s. I know that when the disastrous Federal Court-mandated, cross-city, large-scale school busing edict took Boston by storm beginning in the mid-1970’s, many white-working-class Bostonians, especially in Southie and Charlestown, became quite hostile towards the police, despite the fact that many members of Boston’s TPF (the now-disbanded Tactical Patrol Force) actually hailed from those white working-class ethnic Boston neighborhoods. Many of the whites didn’t want the cops around, but, had the cops not been around, there would’ve been more mayhem and bloodshed.

Both blacks and working-class whites eventually did come to dislike and distrust the police, even though they were actually pitted against each other, as well.

Here’s another thing, zuzupetals: You said that you were confident that, since you’re a white middle-class woman, the cops would never throw you to the ground, beat, shoot, or arrest you, or, if you were arrested, you’d be released on a less stiff bail. Let me say this, zuzupetals: If you were a poor white, you’d probably not be that lucky. Chances are that you’d get some pretty similar treatment meted out to you by the cops, and, if you did survive the ordeal, you’d be permanently crippled, which would hardly be any better. I read about somebody (a white guy), who has a friend (also white), who has a bullet permanently lodged in his brain, courtesy of a white Boston cop. So, don’t get feeling too smug or virtuous, because there’s no telling what a cop might or might not do to you if you got pulled over. It could also depend on the individual cop, or what kind of a state of mind that the cop in question was in that day.

I’ll also add that plenty of whites have gone to jail for physically assaulting a cop, which is no picnic, either.


sounds like we are both on roughly the same page, then.

i just do not find it necessary, any time the issue of
racism is brought up as a major contributing factor in being victim of mistreatment, abuse, arrest, or murder at the hands of authority, to bring up the cases where whites have not fared much better. with whites, as i clarified in my reply, mere existance is not the crime as it is with persons of color. whites who are rebellious to the status quo (anti-war demonstrators, Occupy participants) and the poor, (who as I mentioned are targeted because poverty itself has been criminalized) do get similar treatment.

But we were talking about Sandra Bland. THIS is the issue here and now.
Though the issues are linked, they are not proportional, and do not change the whys and wherefores of Sandra Bland’s case.

It’s like needing to say “All lives matter” any time someone says “Black lives matter”.
“poor lives matter” and “activist lives matter” might be more acceptable, because those are the distinctions at risk to being treated as less human. Whiteness has it’s privilege even in those groups.

And there is always the issue of being female…imagine being Black, female, poor AND a disident! Ding…we got ourselves Sandra Bland! (except for the poor part, possibly).


I understand that the talk is about Sandra Bland, but what happened to her, as horrific as it was, needs to be put into the nexus of an age-old, deeply entrenched societal problem; the constant abuse and mistreatment of the poor, and/or non-white groups. If you think that poor whites are privileged, you just might want to think again, because, all too often, they’re little or no better off than the blacks or other non-whites. Saying that the lives of poor people and the lives of activists also matter is a fair way to put it, imho.

It’s true that poor and non-white people are disproportionately at the receiving end of police brutality, and always have been, but one must bear in mind, that unless the militarization of the police here in the United States ends, the treatment of poor non-whites and the treatment of poor whites alike by police and other law enforcement people is at great risk for becoming proportional, if one gets the drift.

Frankly, zuzupetals, I do think that one can be aware of the fact that blacks and other non-whites get disproportionately brutalized by cops and other law-enforcement people, and still realize that plenty of poor whites get similar treatment at the hands of cops. I really think that the posters on here who are trying to put Miss Bland’s horrific treatment and ultimate death at the hands of the law into a nexus of societal concerns, generally, are also correct.