Last Friday, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African-American woman from Illinois, traveled to Waller, Texas to start a new job at her alma mater, Prarie View A&M University. A day later she was arrested for a traffic violation. The arrest was brutal, and what happened after even worse: Bland was found dead in her jail cell two days later, hung by a trash bag. Police are calling it “self-inflicted asphyxiation,” but many are skeptical.
“I do suspect foul play,” her friend, Cheryl Nanton, recently told ABC 7 Chicago. “I believe that we are all 100 percent in belief that she did not do harm to herself.” As her family—and the nation—demands answers about her death, we’re getting a clearer picture of who Sandra Bland was: a passionate advocate for her community. Here are 7 things to know about her:
1. She Was Vocal About Race
In a series of videos she called “Sandy Speaks,” Bland voiced her opinions about police brutality and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. “Black people now that all lives matter, she said in one video addressing White people.”What I need your guys to understand is that being a Black person in America is very hard.” She continued, “If we can get enough White people to show that all lives matter, maybe they’ll stop killing our Black brothers.”
2. She Was a Member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority
Bland’s sorority sister, Alana Taylor, denies allegations that she committed suicide. “Her personality and outlook on life alone DOES NOT resemble uncertainty or depression,” Taylor told the blog Watch The Yard. “She was a strong force that took life head on. Suicide would be the last thing on her mind as she was on the brink of starting a new chapter of life: a new job, a strong cause to fight for and a thick network of support. There are just too many discrepancies and holes in the official report. As far as her friends, chapter, alma mater and family are concerned: Sandy is still speaking and somebody is gonna listen.”
3. The Sorority Has Asked Members to Refrain from Protesting Her Death
Sigma Gamma Rho has released a letter asking members to “refrain from posting social media messages about this matter. This would include, but not be limited to creating hash tags, developing petitions or creating comment threads.” According to the letter, the request is on behalf of Bland’s family.
4. She Tried to Post Bail Before Her Death
Bland called a bail bondsman before her alleged suicide. “I talked to her when she first went to jail,” Joe Booker told The Daily Beast. “I called her mother for her.” It would have cost her family $500 to bail Bland out.
5. She Was an Alumna of Prairie View A&M University
Bland graduated from A&M University in 2009 with a Bachelors of Science in Agriculture. The students of the university have planned an event honoring Bland and demanding answers about her death. A protest was planned outside the jail Friday afternoon, as well as an on-campus candlelight vigil for Sunday night. In the mourning of her death, the university president, George C. Wright said in a statement, “We are all saddened by the alleged circumstances surrounding Ms. Bland’s untimely passing. We, along with the administrators from the Texas A&M University System, extend our heartfelt sympathy to Ms. Bland’s family and friends.”
6. She Moved to Texas for Her Dream Job
Bland recently landed a job at her alma mater, Prarie View A&M University and was meant to begin on August 3. She would have been the summer programming associate in the school’s Cooperative Extension Program.
7. Her Death Has Been Ruled Suicide by Hanging
Though family and friends are skeptical, Bland’s death was allegedly a suicide. Bland was found in her jail cell, hung by a trash bag. The Waller County Sheriff’s Office said she was “not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation” and CPR was immediately performed.