Typically, Black women’s deaths don’t garner much media attention, but this week the deaths of Sandra Bland and Kindra Chapman became national news.
According to law enforcement officials, both Bland, 28, and Chapman, 18, took their own lives while in jail for relatively minor offenses. However, given the wave of extrajudicial killings by police of unarmed Black people, the news of their deaths caused many to be skeptical.
So what do we know so far?
Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old graduate of Prairie View A&M University. According to her family, she was relocating from the Chicago area back to Texas to begin a new job at her alma mater.
On Friday, July 10, Bland was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas for allegedly failing to use her signal during a lane change. Police allege Bland became combative and assaulted a police officer during the traffic stop, but a video of her arrests contradicts their story. Bland was arrested for “assaulting a public servant” and taken to the Waller County jail, where she contacted a bail bondsman to try to arrange bond.
After her arrest, Bland called her sister, Shante Needham, and told her the arresting officer put his knees in her back. She also said she believed her arm was broken. On Friday, Bland told LaVaughn Mosely, a close friend, she was smoking a cigarette when the officer confronted her and he “told her to put her cigarette out. She had an exchange of words, and it just went downhill. She said he snatched her out of the window and slammed her on her face.” Friday, the officer who arrested Bland was put on desk duty for violating procedures.
On Monday, July 13, jail authorities say they spoke with Bland twice, once at 7 a.m. to bring her breakfast, and again at 8 a.m. via an intercom. However, when a female jailer went to check on her at 9 a.m. they found her unresponsive. Sheriff Glenn Smith said jail officials started CPR and called EMTs, but it was too late. Bland did not have any shoelaces or bed sheets in her cell, but Elton Mathis, Waller County district attorney, said she used a trash bag to hang herself from a partition in the ceiling.
Bland’s family insists she wouldn’t commit suicide, and have asked for a full investigation into her death.
D.A. Mathis admits it’s “strange” a woman who “had everything going for herself” would take her own life, but Waller County officials insist her death was self-inflicted.
Texas State Senator Royce West has asked the Texas Department of Safety to release any video of the arrest and incarceration of Bland, and the FBI has joined the Texas Rangers in the investigation.
Kindra Chapman was an 18-year-old Alabama resident who died in the Homewood City jail on Tuesday, July 14. According to Homewood police, Chapman was arrested for first-degree robbery after she allegedly stole someone’s cell phone.
Chapman was booked into jail at 6:22 p.m. on Tuesday, and a little over an hour later she was found unresponsive in her cell.
Homewood City jail officials say they conducted a wellness check on Chapman at 7:50 p.m., but she was unconscious. She was taken to Brookwood Medical Center, but was pronounced dead. Officials claim Chapman used a bed sheet to hang herself, but the Huffington Post reports the results of Chapman’s autopsy are still pending.
Homewood police, the same agency that arrested Chapman, is conducting the investigation into her death.
Though law enforcement officers in both municipalities claim the women died of self-inflicted asphyxiation, America’s history of police abuse has caused many to question the official account presented to the media.
Regardless of what actually happened, it’s clear the reaction to Bland and Chapman’s deaths once again illustrates the lack of trust between law enforcement officials and the communities they serve.