Sandra Bland was found dead Monday while in the custody of a Waller County, Texas, jail.
Police have called her death a suicide, claiming that she died from “self-inflicted asphyxiation.” Her family and friends insist that the 28-year-old, an outspoken voice against police brutality who was on her way to begin a new job in Texas, would never take her own life. A friend, Cheryl Nanton, blatantly said she suspected foul play.
As questions and suspicions begin to grow about what exactly happened to Sandra Bland, here’s what we can tell you for certain about the bright young woman who was supposed to be driving toward a new beginning but ended up dead:
1. She was stopped for failing to signal while changing lanes.
Bland was reportedly pulled over during a routine traffic stop for not signaling a lane change. Police claim that during the stop she became combative and was then arrested and charged with “assault on a public servant.”
However, video released of the incident doesn’t seem to show a combative Bland. Instead, officers can be seen restraining Bland who argued with them about the methods used to detain her. “You just slammed my head into the ground,” Bland is heard saying on the video.
2. Bland was in Texas for a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.
Bland attended Prairie View A&M on a band scholarship and graduated in 2008 before going back home to Illinois. She was a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, which issued a statement Thursday (pdf) in response to her death. Early in July, she drove to Texas for a job interview at the university. She got the job and was to begin working in student outreach. Her death was two days before her start date.
3. Waller County, Texas, where Bland was arrested, has a bleak history of racial intolerance.
The small, rural county has a complicated and dark racial history.
In 2008 the Houston Chronicl detailed how local cemeteries were still segregated. There were black cemeteries and white cemeteries and those were the rules. When one Waller County justice of the peace, DeWayne Charleston, attempted to bury the body of a brutally slain white woman in a black cemetery, his plea was overturned by Waller County Judge Owen Ralston. Ralston said it cost too much, saving taxpayers more than $400. The Jane Doe, whose body was never claimed after a year, was eventually buried in a privately owned and operated white cemetery.
According to the Chronicle, a county resident of Hempstead sued the city for failing to maintain its black cemeteries. That lawsuit was successful. In 2007 the city of Hempstead’s police chief, Glenn Smith, was suspended after being accused of racism.
A little further back, in 2004, black residents rejoiced when District Attorney Oliver Kitzman stepped down after an alleged “reign of terror” centered around discrimination, the Los Angeles Times reported. Black leaders reportedly accused Kitzman and other white officials of targeting and harassing residents based on race, a claim that was denied. Black leaders in Waller in 2004 claimed that they were subject to crude intimidation, such as rocks being thrown through house windows and police cars often passing slowly by the homes of black “troublemakers.” Black residents also complained about alleged plots to suppress the black vote.
According to the 2013 census data, Waller County’s population of 45,484 was 70.5 percent white and a mere 25.8 percent black.
4. Bland was outspoken against police violence, posting often on her social media sites in segments she called “Sandy Speaks.”
Bland’s Facebook page posts include videos of her candidly speaking about race and racism in the nation in “Sandy Speaks.” “Black people are truly, we’re doing as much as we can … and we can’t help but get pissed off when we see situations when it’s clear that black lives didn’t matter,” she said in one video, addressing white people specifically.
In her last Facebook video, she eerily addressed the youth, saying, “It’s time, y’all … this thing that I’m holding in my hand, this telephone, this camera, it’s quite powerful. Social media is powerful. We can do something with this. If we want to change, we can really truly make it happen.”
“We sit out here and talk about ‘Oh we need the next so-and-so and this-and-that.’ No, you don’t. No, you don’t. Start in your own home. Start with you. You start being that person that wants to make that change,” she added. “I’m here to change history. I’m ready to do what I need to do for this next generation. It’s time. It’s time for me to do God’s work at the end of the day.”
Her last Facebook profile picture was a simple text demanding, “Now legalize being Black in America.”
5. Sandra Bland’s life matters.
It is unnerving that after Bland spoke out so publicly about black lives, her name is now added to the growing list of those who have suffered or died while in the custody of officers or a jail. Several hashtags—including the currently trending #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland—have surfaced on Twitter in her honor, demanding answers and justice in her stead.
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.