Charles Blow selectively muses: What ever happened to Sandra Bland, who recently died in a jail in Waller County, Texas?
In his current New York Times column, Charles Blow asks that question. He focuses on Bland’s alleged suicide by hanging, not on her somewhat puzzling prior arrest.
Why would Sandra Bland have taken her own life? Obviously, we have no way of knowing. Obviously, neither does Blow.
At some length, this is Blow’s approach to the question. Warning! Thumbs on scales!
BLOW (7/20/15): Last week...America and the social justice movement focused on the mysterious cases of two black women who died in police custody.After discussing a second, similar jail house death, Blow tells us that the claims by police in each of these cases seems odd:
The first and most prominent was Sandra Bland, a black woman from suburban Chicago who had moved to Texas to take a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A & M University, a historically black school about 50 miles northwest of Houston.
She never started that job. After being arrested following a traffic stop, Bland was found dead in her jail cell. The police say she killed herself. Her family and friends doubt it.
As The New York Times reported last week: Bland “was arrested last Friday in Waller County by an officer with the Texas Department of Public Safety on a charge of assaulting a public servant. She had been pulled over for failing to signal a lane change.”
The Times continued:
“A statement from the Waller County Sheriff’s Office said that the cause of Ms. Bland’s death appeared to be self-inflicted asphyxiation. An autopsy on Tuesday classified her death as suicide by hanging, according to The Chicago Tribune.”
Indeed, the Waller County district attorney, Elton Mathis, told a Houston station last week: “I will admit it is strange someone who had everything going for her would have taken her own life.”
According to NBC News, Mathis also said: “If there was something nefarious, or if there was some foul play involved, we’ll get to the bottom of that.”
The F.B.I. has joined that investigation.
BLOW: The deaths seem odd: young women killing themselves after only being jailed only a few days or a less than a couple hours, before a trial or conviction, for relatively minor crimes.To state the obvious, any suicide in a jail “run[s] counter to prevailing patterns of behavior as documented by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.” Very few people commit suicide in jail, as an initially-bungled New York Times graphic clearly establishes.
And the official explanations that they were suicides run counter to prevailing patterns of behavior as documented by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which has found that, on the whole, men are more likely to commit suicide in local jails than women, young people are less likely to do so than older people, and black people are the least likely to do so than any other racial or ethnic group.
That doesn’t mean that these women didn’t commit suicide, but it does help to explain why their coinciding deaths might be hard for people to accept.
(On line, the bungle has been corrected, although it confused a bunch of commenters. In our hard-copy Times, the initial bungle is of course still sitting right there.)
According to Blow’s graphic, 43 out of 100,000 male prisoners commit suicide in jail. The corresponding number for women is 32 out of 100,000, a number which is even less!
Blow wastes our time with such minor distinctions; he does this again and again, insinuating foul play. As he does, he omits the part of Bland’s back-story which conceivably could suggest a reason why she, and not all those other people, might have taken her own life.
Did Sarah Bland kill herself in jail? Like Blow, we have no earthly way of knowing. But we do know how to seek information about matters which are important, and we know that it is evil and wrong to disappear facts which might keep you from getting your audience all worked up in the way which makes you feel noble and strong.
Did Sandra Bland take her own life? We have no way of knowing. But many news orgs, from the AP on down, have reported her Facebook posts last March, in which, to quote the Houston Chronicle, “she discussed suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress.”
Did Sandra Bland suffer from depression? We can’t answer that. But this account appeared early Saturday morning on the site of the Chicago Tribune, in Bland’s home state of Illinois:
ZIEZULEWICZ (7/18/20): While Bland's family members said last week that they had no indication the woman intended to harm herself after being arrested July 10, she said in a Facebook video earlier this year that she was suffering from "a little bit of depression as well as PTSD," or post-traumatic stress disorder. She did not explain the cause of the PTSD.That same account appeared at other Illinois news orgs at least as early as last Friday, sourced to the AP. Three days later, Blow is trying to get us all whipped up, the way the hustlers and music men have always done all through the annals of time.
In a video posted three days later, she elaborated.
"I want you guys to know it's a daily struggle. It's a daily test," she said. "Depression is nothing but the devil. It's a way of mind and it's a way of thinking." She recommended prayer to cut through the fog.
We don’t know if Sandra Bland took her own life. That said, depression can be deadly, as everyone understands.
It doesn’t mean you’re not a good person. It means you’re suffering, as those AP news reports said—suffering from something which may prove hard to defeat.
We also don’t know if Charles Blow is really a journalist. Increasingly, he seems to behave like a classic hustler. The deaths of much-beloved people like Bland have always been music to such music men’s ears.
Our own tribe’s exalted leaders just keep behaving this way. They do this again and again and again. Nothing will make them stop.
We’ve seen Sean play these games of omission a million times. In truth, Our Own Tribe’s exalted leaders often seem to behave a great deal like Theirs.