(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
This week, from Dallas to San Diego to the Midwest, activists and community members around the United States are answering a national call to demand justice for Sandra Bland, a Black woman and activist who died in police custody on July 13.
In Chicago, protesters lifted up Sandra Bland’s name on Michigan Avenue on July 28, as hundreds of protesters lined a bridge over the Chicago River, urging those who believe Black lives matter to “say her name.” While a great deal of public discourse has focused on whether or not Sandra Bland committed suicide, or died as a result of police brutality, participants in Tuesday night’s event carried a broader message – that the system was responsible for Sandra Bland’s death regardless of the specifics of her death. In the words of organizer Mariame Kaba, “I don’t care about the CSI version of how she died. The system killed her. The rest is superfluous.”
Attendees loudly stated – through speech, song and imagery – that Sandra Bland’s unlawful arrest was, in of itself, an act of violence and a manifestation of a culture of anti-Blackness in US policing. Connections were also drawn between Black and Indigenous struggles, with the name of Sarah Lee Circle Bear – an Indigenous woman who recently died in a jail cell – being called out alongside that of Sandra Bland and Rekia Boyd, an unarmed Black woman shot down by police in Chicago, whose family continues to seek justice.
As the crowd marched over the bridge carrying lights large and small, echoes of “This Little Light of Mine” could be heard along the shoreline. As more pictures of solidarity actions emerge in the coming days, and Black August events kick off nationwide, organizers here in Chicago and around the country hope that more people will take to the streets to say the names of the fallen, and demand a world where arrests like Sandra Bland’s are unthinkable. In the words of local organizer Page May, “I just want to live. I just want to be free.”