News Fix: Sandra Bland’s Death is Being Thoroughly Investigated Says Prosecutor and More News Stories

Hey seasonal fruits! I hope your Monday was grand and your Tuesday will be filled with tacos. Here’s some news for you!

Sandra Bland Updates and #IfIDieInPoliceCustody

+ The FBI joins the Texas Rangers in investigating the death of Sandra Bland, who was arrested in Texas on July 10 after failing to properly signal a lane change and was found dead three days later in a jail cell of an apparent hanging. Waller County District Attorney, Elton Mathis asked the investigators to do extensive scientific testing for fingerprints, DNA and other techniques. Mathis says the investigation is being treated as a murder investigation and will be very thorough. Bland’s family has requested an independent autopsy into her death; Harris County’s medical examiner said her death was caused by suicide.

SandraBland

Mathis says that there were no cameras in the cell where Bland was found dead and cameras monitoring the hall outside her cell show no one entering or leaving it between the time she last spoke to officers through an intercom and when she was found dead.

According to Bland’s family attorney, Cannon Lambert, Bland was threatened with a taser to get out of her car. Lambert says in not-yet-released dash cam footage shows the officer told Bland to put out a cigarette and she refused. The officer then reached for Bland’s door at which point Bland reached for a cell phone to record the encounter. The trooper who pulled over and later arrested Bland was put on desk duty on Friday for violating procedures, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

Bland was looking forward to a new job at Prairie View A&M University, from which she graduated in 2009. In some Facebook videos that have resurfaced in the wake of her death, Bland talks about suffering from depression and PTSD. Over at For Harriet, Evan Seymour points out she uploaded a lot of other videos talking about race in America and shares some of Bland’s wisdom from her “Sandy Speaks” videos.

+ Kindra Darnell Chapman, an 18-year-old black Alabama woman was also found dead in a jail cell last Wednesday. Chapman was booked in the jail at 6:22 pm for robbing someone’s cell phone. She was found unresponsive at 7:50 p.m. in an apparent hanging. The police say she died by suicide.

+ In the wake of Sandra Bland and Kindra Chapman’s mysterious deaths at the hands of police, many Black people took to Twitter to tell the public if they were to die at the hands of police that they did not harm themselves. They used the hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody and their tweets ranged from heartbreaking to revolutionary.


Police Violence and the Prison Industrial System

+ Stephanie Dorceant, 29, was arrested on July 11 in Brooklyn after allegedly assaulting off-duty NYPD officer Salvator Aquino. She’s facing felony charges of assault as well as charges for menacing, resisting arrest and harassment. However since last Thursday, Aquino is under a hate crime investigation because Dorceant says she was actually attacked by the off-duty officer and called homophobic slurs. The incident occurred at around 2 a.m. on July 11 when Dorceant and her girlfriend Nandi Allman were walking home after a concert and Aquino, dressed in plain clothes, bumped into Dorceant from behind. Dorceant asked him if he was ok and he replied “mind your own business you fucking dyke.” Dorceant said he then attacked her, punched her in the face, choked her, all while calling her anti-gay slurs.

“When he had his hands around my neck I truly thought I was going to die” Dorceant said in a statement published by the Huffington Post. “I could not breathe. The only way I could get him to stop attacking me and my girlfriend was to bite him.”

Other police officers showed up and when Aquino identified himself as a police officer, the other police officers proceeded to pile on top of Dorceant and handcuffed her and her girlfriend. Dorceant was arrested, taken to the hospital and spent a day at Riker’s Island before Allman posted her $1,000 bail. Aquino alleges Dorceant was the one who started the attack. Both women are small and wouldn’t have posed a threat to the officer, Dorceant lawyer says. The women’s friends have started a crowdfunding page to help pay for legal and medical fees, so far they’ve raised over $4,800 out of their $8,000 goal.

“Even though I am well aware of the many stories about police brutality, especially against blacks, Hispanics, and the LGBT community, I never really thought that this could happen to me,” Dorceant said. “I want to share my story and say that police brutality is a real thing. Hate crimes are a real thing.”

+ Meagan Taylor, a 22-year-old black trans woman, was wrongfully profiled by hotel staff and police as a sex worker and then placed in an isolated jail cell last Monday. Hundreds of supporters came out to see her be released over the weekend.

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Meagan Taylor

Taylor was arrested at the Drury Inn in West Des Moines while visiting from Illinois with a trans friend. Taylor and her friend were accused of prostitution by the hotel staff and the police were called to investigate on July 13. When the police found the pair weren’t involved with sex work, they still arrested Taylor because she was in possession of her transition-related medication without a prescription and “malicious prosecution,” which may be related to outstanding probation from Illinois for credit card fraud. Taylor, who is a cosmetology student and who works at a salon, told the The Des Moines Register that she had already served her time for credit card fraud at 17 but couldn’t pay a related $500 fine that has grown to $1,700. Taylor also has a prescription for her medication but didn’t have it with her while she was traveling. Taylor said she believes she was profiled for being a black trans woman:

“It seemed like they were trying to find something to charge me with. I lied about my name [but] I was not doing any illegal activity. The lady called police because I was transgender and was with a transgender friend.”

Since her arrest, Taylor was held in a segregated medical cell at Polk County Jail because the facility didn’t have a policy on how to detain trans women who haven’t undergone gender affirming surgery. Taylor wasn’t able to pay her $2,000 bail and had a court date set to August 10. Word spread of Taylor’s arrest through an op-ed in the Register and local Black Lives Matter activists sprang into action. They held a protest outside the Drury Inn on Saturday and on social media under #FreeMeaganTaylor and #EvenDesMoines. They demanded the hotel apologize to Taylor and for staff to receive training on trans and gender non-conforming guests. Meanwhile San Francisco-based pastor, Megan Rohrer, raised funds for Taylor’s bail and fees. They raised over $4,500 for Taylor’s bail and the overdue warrant in Illinois. It’s still unclear if Taylor will be released soon.


Presidential Candidates and #BlackLivesMatter

+ On Saturday, Black Lives Matter protestors took the stage during the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix where they demanded that the candidates address police violence and structural racism. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley was in mid-speech when Arizona-based activist Tia Oso took the stage and expressed her frustration with white supremacy and asked O’Malley what he would do to “dismantle, not reform, not make progress, but begin to dismantle structural racism in the United States.” He really didn’t answer the question and ended with saying “Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter.” Lots of people booed him. When Bernie Sanders took the stage right after O’Malley, he skirted the issue as well and talked about economic inequality and how if we fix that, then social justice will naturally follow. However it’s still not acknowledging the root of the problem, which is racism.

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Photo by Ross D. Franklin

+ Bernie Sanders spoke in Dallas on Sunday and I kinda regret not going to listen to him. Here’s a rundown of what he talked about in Dallas and in Houston. The Texas Tribune reports: 

“At each stop, Sanders railed against a ‘billionaire class’ and called for a ‘political revolution’ while pitching a host of proposals on liberals’ wish lists. He touted his support, often in conjunction with shots at his Republican rivals, for a $15 minimum wage, a massive federal jobs program, free tuition for public colleges and universities, a single-payer health care system, a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally and campaign finance reform including a rollback of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Acknowledging some of his plans would be pricey, Sanders assured supporters that the wealthiest members of society would foot the bill with high taxes.”

Although he f*cked up at the Netroots conference, he hopefully learned from it because he acknowledged Sandra Bland when talking about other Black people who’ve died at the hands of police.

“It is unacceptable that police officers beat up people or kill people,” Sanders said in Houston. “If they do that, they have got to be held accountable.”


An Interview with Rachel Dolezal

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Photograph by Justin Bishop

+ Vanity Fair profiled Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP Spokane, Washington, chapter president who pretended to be black. In the interview, she stands by her view of herself as black and says she doesn’t feel she lied to anyone.

“I just feel like I didn’t mislead anybody; I didn’t deceive anybody. If people feel misled or deceived, then sorry that they feel that way, but I believe that’s more due to their definition and construct of race in their own minds than it is to my integrity or honesty, because I wouldn’t say I’m African American, but I would say I’m black, and there’s a difference in those terms.”

She hopes to write a book soon so she can be done with explaining herself and get back into social justice work. For now, she continues to do hair (braids and weaves) since she resigned from the NAACP and lost her position at the Eastern Washington University where she taught in the Africana Studies program.


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Yvonne S. Marquez is a lesbian journalist and former Autostraddle senior editor living in Dallas, TX. She writes about social justice, politics, activism and other things dear to her queer Latina heart. Yvonne was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter. Read more of her work at yvonnesmarquez.com.

Yvonne has written 206 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. #stopallthepolicebrutality
    This is getting ridiculous, are all American police 4 year olds? Because that’s what it’s starting to look like. We are being thrown back into an age in the country’s history where the police enforce discrimination instead of justice..

  2. Yvonne, thanks for this update. So much of this news is so sad and infuriating. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. Didn’t Dolezal initially say that we’re all from Africa anyways, but now she’s specifically claiming that she’s black but not African-American? C’mon.

    I’d LOVE to see her in a debate with Raven, Pharrell, and the rest of the New Black crew.

  4. Nice to end a lot of infuriating but important stories with the totally absurd Rachel Dolezal.

  5. Thank you Yvonne for reading and digesting all this generally depressing news and feeding it to us in small enough chunks to keep us informed without choking in despair!

  6. The mere fact that anyone in any country (much less the self-styled “Land of the Free”) feels the need to use a hashtag like #IfIDieInPoliceCustody is insanely heartbreaking.

    I have so much I’d like to say (okay, more than likely I’d be yelling) at the transphobic and racist (because let’s be honest, the intersection of race and trans-status is at the core here) Drury Inn staff. As for the police: have none of these idiots ever heard of travel bottles for medication? Sorry, I have to stop now before this post descends into expletives, snarls, and the gnashing of teeth. Hopefully Meagan Taylor is freed soon.

    As for Rachel Dolezal, I’m beginning to wonder if this is a case of the lie you tell so often that you begin to actually believe it. I was

    • Just ignore the “I was” at the end here. I forgot where I was going to go with that.

  7. It must have been difficult to read about all of this and then write about it. Thanks for your work!

  8. There seems to be no shortage of stories about awful, racist things happening in this country. Sometimes it’s difficult to read but knowing these stories is the first step to any kind of accountability.

    • It’s certainly problematic. I don’t see what’s wrong with just saying “genital surgery”.

  9. Mariko

    #ifidieinpolicecustody had me crying buckets. So mad and sad.

  10. Pretty sure we’ve been rocking the headline “It Still Sucks Being Black in America” for around 400 years, so sick of this shit

  11. I just watched the dash cam video of Sandra Bland’s arrest. That officer was completely out of line. Why do we not have a better check on law enforcement in this country? This guy keeps trying to show how big and powerful he is. He asks her to put out a cigarette in her own car and she says he doesn’t have the right and ends up threatening her with a taser because she is calling him on his shit?! That officer should have been arrested, not Bland. We need to police the police in this country. The system is set up to prioritize protecting itself over respecting & protecting citizens.

  12. The dash-cam footage was released but it’s all effed up and has clearly been edited.

  13. Ari

    This was really hard to read, but this was all important to read, thanks Yvonne.

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