Grand jurors in Texas declined to indict any law enforcement officials in connection with the death of Sandra Bland, 28, who was found dead in her Waller County jail cell on July 13, 2015. The Waller County grand jurors deliberated for eight hours before issuing their decision. The jail’s officials claim Bland committed suicide, but her family, activists, and the prosecutor reject this claim. Darrell Jordan, a special prosecutor handling the case, said that “the case is still open,” and other charges will be considered in 2016.
Political response to Bland’s death varied. White House officials confirmed in July that President Obama was aware of Bland’s death, but also declined to comment. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said the state trooper was “overly aggressive,” but pivoted to his bigoted base by also stating that “the police have to be given back power.” Hillary Clinton called Bland’s death “disturbing” and said it’s “a tragic reminder of the ongoing systemic issues of race and justice in America that we must address with urgency.” While Trump and Clinton’s rhetoric will sway some voters, presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, has taken a direct approach to addressing white supremacy as it relates to the criminal justice system.
After Bland’s death, Sanders released a statement. “No one should be yanked from her car, thrown to the ground, assaulted and arrested for a minor traffic stop. The result is that, three days later, she is dead in her jail cell,” Sanders said. “This video highlights once again why we need real police reform.” The presidential candidate also had dinner with Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, in October. Rev. Hannah Bonner, who was eating with Reed-Veal at Union Station in Washington, D.C., said Sanders didn’t use the impromptu dinner for political gain. Instead, “he simply made space for a sacred moment, and then let it pass without trying to gain anything from it,” Bonner wrote in a blog post.
Sanders, did, however, vow to continue raising awareness about Bland’s death. He kept that commitment during the first Democratic presidential debate in October. When asked if Black lives matter or all lives matter, Sanders replied, “Black lives matter and the reason those words matter is the African-American community knows that on any given day some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car and then three days later she could end up dead, in jail, or their kids are going to get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom and we need major reforms in a broken criminal justice system in which we have more people in jail than China. I intend to tackle that issue to make sure our people have education and jobs instead of a jail cell.”
Now, after the grand jury failed to issue indictments, Sanders used his platform to advocate for Bland again. In a statement released on Twitter, Sanders said, “Sandra Bland should not have died while in police custody. There’s no doubt in my mind that she, like too many African-Americans who die in police custody, would be alive today if she were a white woman. My thoughts are with her family and loved ones tonight. We need to reform a very broken criminal justice system.”
Statement on grand jury decision in Sandra Bland case: pic.twitter.com/r1oFu9MHWc
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 22, 2015
If Bland were a white woman, she never would’ve been pulled over, threatened, or arrested. Her innocence would’ve been presumed. Bernie Sanders acknowledgement of this injustice should strengthen a fractured relationship between him, a white male politician, and a Black female base he’ll need to earn the nomination and the office. Black female voters between the ages of 18 and 39 had the highest voter turnout rate in 2012’s presidential election, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. Our voting bloc is one of the strongest, and is needed to win an election.
Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, has a tenuous relationship with Black voters, according to Janell Ross, a Washington Post political reporter.
“He isn’t someone many black people know, have been exposed to and, because of the racially insular nature of most Americans’ social networks, wasn’t someone most black Americans had heard of until he became a presidential candidate,” Ross wrote in October.
Former Ohio state senator, Nina Turner, endorsed Sanders in November after being a staunch Clinton supporter.
“I’m very attracted by his message and his style – and that he has held pretty much strong on his beliefs and the world is catching up with him,” Turner told Cleveland.com.
Those beliefs, including equal pay for equal work and advocating for voting rights, align with the issues Black female voters are concerned about. Essence Magazine partnered with the Black Women’s Roundtable to survey 1,862 Black women about their political interests. Key issues for Black women include affordable healthcare, criminal justice reform, access to reproductive healthcare, voting rights, and paid family leave. Yet, these issues are often undervalued, though Black female voters are critical to national elections.
Though Sanders has unveiled a racial justice plan that includes the ambitious goals of investing in community policing, demilitarizing police forces, and banning for-profit prisons, it wasn’t until intense pressure from Black Lives Matters activists that Sanders pivoted from his economic inequality platform. The idea that Sanders had to be pressured into addressing racial injustice doesn’t appeal to Black female voters, who have consistently ranked racial injustice as one of their primary concerns when choosing a candidate.
Yet, Sanders willingness to say Bland’s name, address institutional racism, and fight for voting rights is worthy of consideration among Black female voters.