Thursday, July 23, 2015

SayHerName: Sandra Bland

On July 10, 2015, a Waller County, Texas police officer name Brian Encinia set in motion events that tragically, needlessly interrupted Sandra Bland's life. Bland had returned to Texas to accept a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University in Texas, more than 1,000 miles from her home in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois. Sandra Bland had graduated from the historically black college in 2009 and was returning there as a student ambassador, according to her family. Three days later on July 13, 2015, Sandra Bland was "found dead" in her jail cell, without the possibility of resuscitation.

Officer Encinia stopped Ms. Bland, so he later claimed, because she failed to signal while changing lane. This was information he felt she had no right to ask for or to know, until he was good and ready to reveal it, regardless. I have seen thousands of people in my lifetime change lanes without signaling or while signaling and have yet to meet one who was stopped by police for said violation--somebody out there may know one or two or be one of the few. But based on the seemingly doctored footage of the encounter between Ms. Bland and the Texas cop, he never informed her of why he had stopped her or that he was placing her under arrest. Yet he immediately attempted to control her movements to make her submissive, regardless, by asking her to stop smoking the cigarette she had in her hand. Ms. Bland was asked if she was irritated and she said yes because she did not understand why she was being stopped. The officer, in my opinion, was baiting Ms. Bland into a hostile encounter. He saw that she was irritated and so said, "You seem irritated. Are you irritated?" I believe he wanted her to verbalize her irritation with him for the dashcam. Her words he wanted on tape, but not his violent actions. In response to this compliance (the verbalizing of how she felt at his request), the officer then told Ms. Bland to get out of the car, hoping, I believe, to increase her irritation, escalating the situation. She asked why and refused.  The officer then further escalated the situation, reaching into her car, grabbing her, and yelling "I will light you up." At that point Ms. Bland got out of the car with her cigarette in hand; the angry trooper with his overbearing presence compelled her out of the path of the dashcam. The dashcam is there in order to protect both citizens and the cops. She needed it more that day than he--and I believe he knew this. It seems that the police officers did not want what they were about to do to Sandra Bland caught on video tape.  I could not bring myself to watch the entire video of Sandra Bland's tragic encounter with the Waller County, Texas trooper, but I heard and saw snippets of it on the local news. Even in snippets, it is painful--too painful to fully digest in one sitting, or at all.

And after three days Sandra Bland was dead in her jail cell; authorities immediately notified the public that she had committed suicide by smothering herself with a plastic bag.  Today, The Huffington Post reported that the DA stated that Sandra Bland swallowed large amounts of marijuana while in custody.  I guess she got the marijuana from the same source she got the plastic bag that snatched her last breath--her captors??! 

It haunts and hurts me that Sandra Bland died after an encounter with a cop for what was supposedly a minor traffic infraction, if one occurred at all; that she would not have died had she not been stopped for no clear reason on July 10, 2015 by trooper Encinia. The police are supposed to protect and serve and not escalate and brutalize citizens. Some have said that Sandra Bland deserved the mistreatment she received from Encinia and the other officer present at the scene because she was "combative" and not submissive, regardless. It has never been enough for black people, or women in general, in this country to be submissive. And for women (men and children) who live with or encounter abusers, no amount of submission is enough. An abuser will tease and test his victims in order to extract anew the level of submission said abuser needs, demands at any given time in any given situation. And black women are expected to be doubly submissive because of their race and gender. It was deeply disappointing to see women (I expect it of many men) justifying Sandra Bland's death because she spoke her mind (as if that in itself is a capital offense), audaciously asked why she was being stopped, refused to stop smoking in her own car and initially refused to exit her vehicle. I don't believe Sandra Bland would have escaped this encounter with only a warning as the police officer claimed in the "video". Abusers like to blame their victims with statements like "If only you had done/acted a certain way" or "if you had not provoked me." I believe the officer stopped Ms. Bland in order to harass her, hoping she would be the "angry black woman" at whom he might justifiably direct his sense of entitlement and rage.

 A lot of women have been taught by church and society that they are to be good "foot stools" for men, and when a woman "acts up" or refuses to be that foot stool, that "biblically" submissive woman, then she is seen as deserving any violence inflicted upon her. It can be explained away. Women who have not broken loose from this type of thinking, of course, include themselves in the mix. So they do all they can to be "good girls" (I even heard a female minister not long ago at a breast cancer event talk about the book she wrote about how women can be little girls again and thus become good marriage material) always submissive to male authority and abuse.

It troubles me deeply that as with other black women, men and children who have been senselessly brutalized and murder by rogue and racist cops, authorities and the media immediately began attempts to smear Sandra Bland's character or to support the trooper's version of events. Elton Mathis, Waller County's District Attorney, said of Sandra Bland at a press conference Monday, July 20, 2015, that "This was not a model person that was stopped." And Mathis added "it was not a model traffic stop." He applies the phrase "not a model person" to Sandra, while using the same phrase to describe the "traffic stop" rather than the officer. He negatively characterizes Sandra Bland herself but to the traffic stop, not the officer, Mathis attributes vague imperfection. He depersonalizes the stop as if Trooper E was being rated for his performance in a training drill. But Sandra Bland's character is tarnished. And people who are branded less than model citizens become unworthy of justice. Historically, in this country black women were and could be raped by white men with impunity. If ever a white man was indicted for raping a black woman, he almost always avoided conviction by claiming that the victim was less than a model citizen. Rosa Parks was not the first tired black woman forced to give up her seat on a public bus, but she was a "model citizen."  The tag "not a model person" is in some form or another often attached to people of color and it conjures up a host of illicit activities in the minds of the public who are constantly bombarded with images of black people as less than model citizens. Black people are more often characterized as thugs, unjustifiably and perennially angry, drug dealers, sexually loose, needlessly belligerent, combative hotheads, lazy, etc..  Mathis immediately called into question Sandra's character. Elton Mathis' statement tells me that he himself is not a model person or a model DA; that he is biased. One more reason that we need an independent investigation; we need the justice department to step in.

It disturbs me each time rogue and racist cops and others (i.e., George Zimmerman, et al.) have sought to justify the murder of black people, they conjure up a narrative of fear. It is interesting that cops who commit police brutality against black women, men, and children default to the narrative of fear for their own lives regardless, as if we all are wild animals. You know how it goes: an animal is always an animal, capable of biting the hand that feeds or pets it and therefore should always be feared. So whenever they are killed, evoke the narrative. Why not? it has worked in the past and it has worked in our biased judicial system. And even some black folk have accepted the narrative, regardless. According to Officer Encinia, Sandra Bland struggled with him and kicked him in the shin, and this caused him to fear her. He feared her so that he slammed her head against the ground as he pinned her to the ground and she could not feel her arm. She cried that she was subject to epileptic seizures, and he said "I don't care."  He, the cop in possession of a taser and gun, was willing to jeopardize her life--because she allegedly failed to signal or because she supposedly kicked him in the shin. Yet, it was he who first threatened--and  I believed delivered on his threat when out of sight of the dashcam- bodily harm to Sandra Bland: "I will light you up."

As has already been noted too many questions remain: Why was Sandra's mug shot taken in a prison jumpsuit and not in the clothes in which she was booked? Where did Sandra get a plastic bag? If Sandra Bland became suicidal after three days in jail, which I doubt, unless she was further brutalized and forced to take her own life, where did she get a plastic bag? According to records, Sandra allegedly admitted to attempted suicide after she had lost her baby but stated that she was not now suicidal. It seems to me that authorities doing their due diligence would have made sure there was nothing in her cell that could have allowed her to take her own life, given such a history. Now the authorities are claiming that Sandra Bland had taken large amounts of marijuana while in custody. How could she do so when the authorities had taken her picture in a jumpsuit and thus had already searched her and taken all her belongings including her clothing? Where did she get the marijuana? What was the officer doing to Sandra when he forced her out of sight of the dashcam, and why did the female officer not intervene? In what ways was the video of the encounter edited? What was taken out of the video?

I travel alone quite a bit. I am black and female. And on some days I am "sick and tired of being sick and tired," and I might just be courageous enough to assert my right to know if I should be stopped by a cop. And that cop might be like Officer Encinia. He might refuse to tell me why I am being stopped and yet expect my full unmitigated compliance. Or I might comply but be bullied and provoked--everyone, most people, have a breaking point. Like other black women and men in this country, my life could be cut short by one trivial, unnecessary encounter with the wrong police officer. Our fears are real. Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, and many others, in marked and unmarked graves were real people who are mourned and missed by family and friends. For some it won't be real, the fear, the facts, until it happens to them or to someone they know. But now is past time to say "never again." #SayHerName #BlackLivesMatter #Godrequiresjustice

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Adoption Blog #2: Reactions to the news

Night stand  I rehabed for my child's room w/paint & new hardware.  

While what ultimately matters most is what I think concerning my decision to adopt, it is natural to want family, friends and others to celebrate with me and to be supportive in various ways. I think people go through stages in crises (I do not use this word as a negative term but one simply denoting life-changing events). Certain kinds of advice may be more appropriate and helpful at one stage of a crisis than at another. Most family, friends and others have been overwhelmingly positive and ostensibly happy for me. I recognize that any negative and/or not so helpful comments and responses may have come from a good place. My family has known for some time that I have had the desire and intention to adopt. But when I moved to a two bedroom apartment, began furnishing the child's room, talked about it more frequently, and resumed the formal adoption process, then came the unsolicited advice, warnings, and sometimes off-handed remarks from family and others. Their mostly well-intentioned words sometimes left me rolling my eyes, in a mild state of shock, or seething. Even well-intentioned words spoken at the wrong time or spoken at all can be less than helpful.
Most people have wanted to know if I plan to adopt an infant, and some even suggest that I should. Because with an infant, they say, I have a better chance of molding ("controlling"?) the child. (I think we all attempt to control the children in our lives [and the adults for that matter]. It can be difficult to let go/God of a grip [or get a grip] while providing guidance and support, rather than trying to control others, or to always know the difference.) Sure some people may assume I am younger than I am, as is often the case. But I am far from being a spring chicken, chronologically that is. I could be the hen's momma, maybe!  In Michigan, and maybe other states as well, I have had to explain, the age difference between the adoptive parent and the child cannot be more than fifty years. One could get around the age difference rule by fostering a baby or toddler and hoping that the child becomes adoptable. But there are so many variables and the goal of fostering is supposed to be to reunite the child with the birth parent whenever possible. The goal of fostering should not be for the purpose of trying on children, like a pair of shoes, for possible adoption. So I find myself often reiterating that I am committed to adoption.  Besides the need is great for adoptive parents of school age children. Still some people want to emphasize how set in her ways the child will be. I am aware that according to experts most children's personalities are fully developed by age seven or first grade--a stat people love to quote. One study claims that by that age the personality is set for life. Yes, I have read and heard that. I also believe no two children are exactly alike; that children are individuals and not statistics. I think science should not be ignored and I believe in everyday miracles; the power of love and good professional counseling. I also believe that trouble, or potential trouble, should not trump compassion or a calling to give back in whatever way we choose or are led to do so. I see it all the time as a teacher: people are deterred by potential difficulties, not even realized trouble. 
I plan to provide a loving, supportive, nurturing home, and pray the child will be impacted in positive ways. That's all any parent can hope for, whether they birthed the child or not. Some have said "well you dont know what you are getting" when you adopt a child of school age. I usually respond that you don't know what you are getting when you birth a child. Of course, that is never the end of the conversation. Someone actually pointed out the case of an adoptive child murdering his parents. But for every such case, there are probably ten in which the assailant was the natural child of the victim. In either case, most parents commit to doing their best to raise their children.
Others pride themselves in letting me know that children in the foster care system have educational, emotional, physical and mental challenges and will need professional help. I am by no means oblivious to this fact. (And if I somehow had been ignorant of that reality, the PRIDE training remedied that.  At one agency, the orientation was horrid enoughmore about that later.) I also know that some birth parents are in denial about those same needs in their own children. For children that have been diagnosed with any physical, mental, educational or emotional challenges while in foster care (usually rated on adoption sites such as MARE or as "none," "mild," "moderate," or "severe") the state pays for access to appropriate professionals and other resources.  I, of course, must know and be honest about my own limitations and make wise decisions when choosing a child based on the information that I can access about the child and her background. I also know that regardless, the child will need help dealing with loss and learning to trust and love a virtual stranger. And although I already have love for my potential child, I too will be learning to love her, regardless. Children always love their birth parents no matter what those parents might have done to them. I've seen this up close. It never ceases to amaze me how some who have birthed and raised children assume that single women who have not birthed children know nothing about children and human development.
Some of the mildly irritating comments directed at me include "You are not going to be able to do all that you do now,"  "Are you ready to comb hair?", "You need to adopt two because she will be used to being around other kids," or "Why don't you let her pick out the bedroom furniture" (to which I replied did you do that for your three children?; case closed). People who make such comments usually don't know me intimately, make assumptions based on their own lives, or maybe just need to feel superior in some way. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of friends and family affirm me in my decision to adopt (even while offering their mis/advice), and tell me I will make a great mother. But nobody, I am happy to say, suggested that I am too old. I should take it as a compliment when some people suggest that I adopt a baby, I guess!
I have thought long and hard about adopting a child, and I believe this is the time and season. In the process, I am painfully learning that not all adoption agencies are created equal, especially those that deal with foster children/state wards. More about this later. Thank you for your prayers and support. Pray for my potential child and for me...for grace and wisdom. They are much appreciated!  My next blog will address some fears.