Heidi Hall: Standing up for our rights is not a crime
I finally sat down to watch the Sandra Bland arrest video, lasting for about 25 minutes. I had followed the news about this, but I always want to go to the source when something like this breaks. So I took a deep breath, and watched it.
Then I got angry. Really angry. I sat down to gather my thoughts to share with you, and started crying. Every one of these senseless black deaths at the hands of people misusing power brings me despair.
I am not black and have not heard many personal stories about bad experiences with law enforcement from my friends.
Like many white people in this country right now, I am waking up to how seriously our treasured institutions have perpetuated racism, despite all of our hopefully held beliefs about a post-racial America.
No matter what we try to fix after the fact, we cannot undo Sandra Bland’s death, just like we can’t undo so many other unjust deaths that should have resulted in change already. Another promising life is gone because of someone’s unchecked ego, or threatened manhood, or some other character defect. And because of racism.
I have a healthy capacity for empathy. I believe we all stand together in our humanity in the way we treat others and that we are all complicit in bad behavior if we don’t stand up against it. And when something hits closer to home, we can feel it even more deeply.
The arrest video of Sandra Bland hit a nerve. When I was in my 20s, I was already a woman who tried to speak up clearly against injustice. Even in my own white and educated privilege, I saw this unfairness everywhere. In the classroom, at rallies in graduate seminars — dozens of little cuts that made life just that much harder for some of us than for others.
I know this is nothing compared to what the Sandra Blands of our world suffer.
Within minutes of pulling Sandra over, the state trooper overstepped his authority. Sandra spoke up just like I would, and like I would expect all of my friends to do. She asked why she was being arrested, repeatedly. Fourteen times, in fact.
She insisted he did not have the right to pull her out of the car. She pointed out the irony that all the drama was because she did not signal when she pulled over to get out of his tail-gating way. When she was threatened with a Taser and handcuffed, she called him on his inappropriate use of force.
Sandra stood up to him because her rights were being violated. The state trooper was in possession of all the force and authority, yet misused that force on a young black woman for no good reason. Had I been her at that point, I am pretty sure I would have cussed, too.
I have had one problematic interaction with a policeman in my whole life. I have had a dozen interactions which were respectful and helpful. In several cases, the police were critical in keeping me safe. My gratitude for good police work is deep.
Good officers not only handle violent and difficult situations on a regular basis, but often also do so with grace and consideration. Yet my one bad interaction left me angry, frightened and shaking.
When I got back from my traffic stop gone bad, I collapsed with unspeakable rage, wanting to do something about the injustice. Ultimately, I did nothing, not wanting to rock the boat, wanting it to go away and hoping my young boys who had witnessed the abuse would forget. I won’t be so silent next time.
My experience as a woman speaking up against injustice is nothing next to what Sandra Bland and black women and men deal with all over this country. I can’t imagine living with the knowledge and fear that I might be targeted by people in power on a daily basis.
But I am going to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, “Between the World and Me,” to get a deeper understanding of that experience. Perhaps some of you will join me.
Perhaps my simmering anger over this continuing injustice is coming late. All I know is that it doesn’t feel powerful enough to create change.
I want Sandra Bland to have her day in court, just like she envisioned she would as she was being unlawfully arrested. As she was being arrested for being black. Arrested, truly, for being a black woman who was speaking up for herself.
Black lives matter. Injustice towards one of us is injustice toward all.
Heidi Hall lives in Grass Valley. Contact her at email@example.com.
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