Know Your Rights and Know the Situation
In November of 1999, I drove from Baton Rouge, La. to Houston on I-10 headed to my sister’s wedding.
A Louisiana state trooper began to follow me for a long stretch of the road, switching lanes every time I switched lanes.
When he finally pulled me over, he asked me to get out of my car on the dangerous interstate and stated that he stopped me for not driving six car lengths behind the vehicle in front of me.
He told me he would not give me a ticket to which I replied, “Because it is not against the law not to drive six car lengths behind the vehicle in front of me in almost bumper to bumper traffic.”
I mouthed off to him, which made him irate, and if I didn’t have my teenage cousins in the car with me that late night, who knows what would have happened to me?
Looking back at that incident, my fate could have been very similar to Sandra Bland who died three days after being arrested in Waller County, Texas for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
Officials later found Bland hanged in her jail cell and ruled it a suicide.
There is a popular meme going around that says society isn’t scared of Black people with their pants sagging, they are scared of educated Blacks with college degrees.
Bland represented the latter, and her intelligence and knowledge of her rights might have caused the police officer to react in ways that should never happen.
While I will not speculate on whether Sandra Bland actually died from suicide, I will speculate that educated Blacks are still a threat to some Americans.
But while knowledge is power, sometimes ceding power to others momentarily is better than the alternative.
Shannon Edmonds, staff attorney for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association told the Houston Chronicle, “According to state law, law enforcement officials cannot arrest someone simply for talking back. If an officer thinks the language crosses a line, however, he can charge the individual with disorderly conduct, threat of assault, terroristic threat or something similar.”
The Houston Chronicle went on to report that individuals can record officers with their cell phone cameras, which Sandra Bland did.
Officers can ask drivers to exit the vehicle, which the officer did.
And drivers can refuse an officer’s request to search their vehicle unless the officer has probable cause.
The knowledge and the power that Sandra Bland had inside of her has been taken and we will never know what type of positive influence she would have had on the Black community in the future.
Her mother stated that she had finally discovered her purpose in life and it was to speak out against social injustice.
While this splendid sister is speaking to us from the grave, I am tired of seeing young bright brothers and sisters taken from this planet for unnecessary reasons.
Our lives are worth more than an approximately $100 citation, and we have to sometimes grin and bear injustice until it is the right time and situation to let our voices be heard.
While the police officer handled that situation totally wrong and Sandra Bland knew her rights, our lives are worth more than a ticket.
Many Black Americans know that law enforcement officials sometimes mistreat us and we need to do everything in our power to change the system.
However, we cannot change the system if we do not live to continue the fight.
Nevertheless, Sandra Bland did not die in vein.
This sister of integrity is now a martyr for our movement, but we cannot win a battle if we continue to lose our best soldiers for a few dollars.
My brothers and sisters, I urge us to use discernment to know when it is the right time to fight and when it is the right time to ignore ignorance because the intelligence of our strong soldiers in the community will one day win in the battle against the ignorant system that oppresses us.