I guess the thing that struck me most when I first heard the story of Sandra Bland was how easily I could have been her. Almost seven years ago, I was driving home to Texas all the way from Cambridge, Massachusetts. On the last leg of the trip, at around 4 am in the morning, I was about an hour from my final destination, and a cop pulled me over. Given how long I had been driving, how carefully I always drive, and how anxious I was to get home at last, to have said I was annoyed at being stopped would have been a huge understatement. After the preliminary license and registration rigamarole, the cop asked me "Would you please step out of the car?"...into the rain...on a deserted road...at 4:00 in the morning. I said "No. It's late and raining. Why do I need to step out of the car?" Why wasn't I dragged out of the car into the street at that point, tazed or even shot in the head? Was it the Harvard Law School jacket I was wearing? The fact that my baby brother was in the passenger seat and the officer couldn't tell his age? Was it sheer dumb luck? Whatever the reason, it was not because American police officers do not drag unarmed women out of cars and physically assault them for asking that officers abide by the restrictions the U.S. Constitution places on their authority.
So what should my response be now? Should I be terrified into silence when officers seek to invade my liberty without cause or due process? Should my family members fear for my life if I will not be terrified into silence? What of my sisters, friends, and colleagues? What of America's community of color? How do we respond to Sandra Bland's death?
Before answering this question, it is well to recall the lessons of history. However much America may laude its Founding Fathers, they did not create a democracy. They created an apartheid. American democracy as we now know it, was born out of the martyrdom of the descendants of the Founding Generation's slaves. The ideals of liberty, equality, and justice for ALL, are ideals for which countless Black Americans were dying while the majority of White America was still defending the glories of the apartheid. It was the public lynchings of Black Americans, their beatings, their mauling on national television by dogs, their martyrdom and sacrifice that animated the vision of a non-apartheid America. It was the Black American struggle, more than almost any other factor, that began to transform America's liberty rhetoric into actualized American principles.
Thus, though the American apartheid experiment belonged to the Founding Founders, the American experiment in equality belongs to her people of color. This means that when we insist that an officer respect our liberties, we are not enforcing a vision of America that "THEY" created. We are enforcing a vision of America that we created...in blood, sweat and tears. When we video our encounters with the police, assert our equality as human beings in face of terroristic violence, and demand equal treatment under the law, we are fighting for our vision of America. And it is a vision we have never, at any other time in history, been so close to achieving.
Now is not the time to be terrorized into silence or submission....to go quietly into the night. But rather, to continue the fight as actively as we can. Asserting our rights in face of unlawful restraint is only one way to participate in the movement. Another equally effective way is to be a witness for others who are asserting their rights --by documenting their interactions with the police on our cellphones. The ACLU is in the process of developing a mobile app for each state that allows such videos to be automatically sent to the ACLU of the state in which it was recorded. (http://www.liberalamerica.org/2015/05/02/fight-back-enforce-police-brutality-laws-aclu-mobile-justice-app/)
It takes courage to question an officer and time to stop and document cop-citizen encounters. I realize that. However, we should realize that in our lifetimes, people of color will become the majority in this country. And our courage and time today will determine whether the America is the Founder's aparthied or our own democracy tomorrow.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!