‘Say Her Name’ is a worthy examination of injustice

For Your Consideration: In this space, MSR columnists will offer their favorite books, TV shows and more to help keep readers stay engaged during the statewide Stay At Home order. This week, Dwight Hobbes reviews the 2018 documentary “Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland.”

Courtesy of HBO

“Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland” (HBO – DVD) painstakingly documents that had this smart, outspoken Black woman known her place and stayed in it, she’d be alive today. But, then, she would not have been Sandra Bland.

Indeed, she wouldn’t have been a great many of today’s Black women. That, we see, is what precipitated her tragically senseless death. An attitude in the face of White authority from a White woman would be seen as self-assertive autonomy, but a Black female defiantly claiming her lawful rights is viewed as arrogant and unruly—in a word, uppity.

In the film, a blonde, blue-eyed demonstrator at one of a dozen protests across America frankly acknowledged, “As a White woman living in America, I know that what happened to Sandra would not happen to me.”

The first few frames tell the story, illustrating in stark clarity how an incensed, reactionary lawman’s mental disposition cost 28-year-old Bland her liberty and, at length, her life.
On July 10, 2015, Bland headed to the grocery store and was pulled over by Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia for not signaling when she changed lanes. From the outset, he’s antagonistic, going from arbitrarily commenting on her irritation at being pulled over quickly to mounting unprovoked hostility.

There’s no apparent reason that he makes for ordering her to put out a cigarette, which she challenges with, “Why? I’m in my car.” Nor is there any evident cause for him to insist she step out of the car. Something she also challenges, replying that she’s about to call her lawyer.
Trooper Encinia, not once states why she should comply except to claim he gave her a lawful order, begins repeating himself in an angry tone, threatening, “I will remove you.”

The back and forth escalates with Bland asserting, “I’m not under arrest.”
“You are under arrest,” Encinia retorts.
“For what?” asks Bland. Still giving no explanation, Encinia reaches for her. Her response: “Don’t touch me.”
“Get out of the car, now!” he said wielding a taser. He adds, “I will light you up!”
“Why am I being apprehended?” she asks. He repeatedly gives the order, by now yelling at her. Bland, relatively calm, answers, “Wow. For failure to signal!” Encinia will later claim she kicked him, charging assault on a public servant (he was subsequently indicted for perjury).

There’s no kick seen, but clearly the sound of him slapping her and his demand that she stop recording the incident on her cell phone. Once she’s out of the vehicle, she is roughhoused to the extent that she says, “I can’t wait to go to court.”

But Bland never gets there. Taken into custody, she is discovered three days later hanging by the neck in a Waller County jail cell, dead. Supposedly it was suicide. “Say Her Name” details, point by point, that there is a great deal about Bland’s death being ruled a suicide that simply does not add up, including that the plastic garbage with which she allegedly hung herself had neither her fingerprints or DNA on it.

Sandra Bland was passionately committed to making a difference in the world. As is chronicled by footage from her “Sandy Speaks” video blog, 30 or so recordings on social empowerment with a candid, casually upbeat approach to such subjects as personal growth, African American history, Black on Black crime and more.

Her blog included a poignantly humorous installment, encouraging the wearing of natural hair. It pointed out how sensitive we can be about that other n-word: naps. “Under the edge-up, you got naps. Under that Brazilian [or] when you get that perm. You have…naps,” said Bland.

She also stepped onto seldom trod ground, seeking to build a bridge of communication across colors, expressing in one installment, “[This is] to focus directly on my White people. Black people know all lives matter. But, what I need you guys to understand is that being a Black person in America is very, very hard. …We get pissed off when we see situations where someone surrenders to the cops and still be killed.”

Bland, who grew up in Naperville, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, had graduated from Prairie View A&M, was starting a summer job there and planned to eventually go for a master’s degree.

Her sister, Sharon Cooper, recalled talking to her on the phone during Bland’s trip down from Chicago. “When she was driving, Sandy kept talking about going back to Texas. [She said], ‘My purpose is to go back…to stop all of the injustices against Blacks.’”

“Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland,” directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, gives every indication she became yet another victim of said injustice.