The tragic and widely debated circumstances around Sandra Bland's death on Monday have sparked the Twitter hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody.
Its conceit is sobering: Black users across the social media platform — in part prompted by the suspicion that 28-year-old Bland did not, in fact, die by suicide in a Waller County, Texas, jail, but rather by more dubious means — are advising their readers what to do if they die under similar circumstances.
The posts amount to a series of unofficial advance directives. That they feel necessary is both troubling and heartbreaking. But considering the long list of black women and men who have died or been killed while held by law enforcement in recent years — including Freddie Gray in Baltimore, whose death sparked days of unrest in April — it's hard to imagine many alternatives.
Here are 24 of the tweets:
Background: The impetus for this hashtag is Sandra Bland, who was allegedly found dead of asphyxiation in a jail cell on Monday morning.
She had recently moved to Texas from Naperville, Illinois, to start a new job as a college outreach officer at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. According to reports and a video recorded at the scene, Bland was pulled over by Department of Public Safety troopers over the weekend for failing to use her turn signal. She was then arrested for "assault on a public servant" and put in jail.
Officials claim they found her dead by suicide in her cell on Monday morning. But Bland's family, friends and a host of other concerned parties on social media and elsewhere have expressed doubt that this is true. Aside from Bland preparing to start a new job, a local bail bondsman named Joe Booker has now claimed she tried to bail herself out over the weekend.
That Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith was suspended from his previous job as police chief in Hempstead, Texas, after allegations of racism, and then fired, has raised further suspicion.
The circumstances around Bland's death remain unclear. But one fact is unambiguous: That black people feel they must preemptively endorse investigations into their own deaths speaks to both law enforcement's troubled track record on the issue and the deluge of state violence to which black people have been subjected in the United States over the years.
This has to stop.