What happened to Sandra Bland? The routine tortured death of Black women in jail

#BlackLivesMatter activist and outspoken critic of police brutality Sandra Bland was “found” dead in a Texas jail. The jail claims Sandra Bland killed herself. The FBI is investigating. Waller County, where the jail is located, is now “discovered” as fraught with racial tensions, “racism from cradle to grave.” Some describe the circumstances as “mysterious”.

Sandra Bland’s arrest, for a minor traffic violation, was caught on video. At one point, she is thrown to the ground, and she yells, “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear.” After that, all is silence.

That’s the ordinary of U.S. jails, and so is abuse, torture, rape and death, especially for Black women. That’s not overstated. The jails of America are filling up to choking as the prisons are “releasing”, and women, and especially Black women, have been the principle actors, and targets, of this new phase of mass incarceration. At Women In and Beyond the Global, we have been covering this trend for years. Here are just some of the individual women’s stories we’ve followed.

In 1998 Gina Muniz was incarcerated in the LA County Jail and the California state prison system for her first arrest, related to the theft of $200 related to a rapid onset of drug addiction-in the aftermath of her father’s death. The theft was bizarrely classified as a carjacking, although no one was harmed, and no car was stolen. Muniz received life in prison; her lawyer told her she was agreeing to seven years when she pled guilty. Six months after Muniz was arrested, she was dead: “Gina Muniz, September 2000, handcuffed to her deathbed and under 24-hour-guard in Modesto Community Hospital. Next to her is her daughter Amanda. Gina suffered horribly for six months from diagnosed but untreated cervical cancer. When it was diagnosed in L.A. County Jail, early and aggressive treatment would more than likely have saved Gina’s life. Grace Ortega, her mother, was finally able to win compassionate release for her daughter two days before her death, so that she could die at home”. Compassionate release.

Amy Lynn Cowling went for a drive on Christmas Eve, 2010 in East Texas. 33 years old, a grandmother of a one-day old child, bipolar, methadone dependent, and with only one kidney, Amy Lynn Cowling was picked up for speeding, then arrested for some outstanding warrants on minor theft charges and traffic violations. Five days later, in the Gregg County Jail after a day of wailing and seizures, of excruciating pain and suffering, of agony, Amy Lynn Cowling died. Amy Lynn Cowling died after five days of her family begging and pleading with the prison staff to make sure they gave her the life sustaining medicines she needed. The pills were just down the hall, in Amy Lynn Cowling’s purse, in the jail storage room. Nobody went, nobody came. Amy Lynn Cowling died.

A year before, in Onondaga County Justice Center, in upstate New York, Chuneice Patterson, 21 years old, Black woman, died similarly, screaming and writhing in pain and ignored.

In 2012, Autumn Miller was in the Jesse R. Dawson State Jail, in Dallas, Texas, for a probation violation. She was in for a year. Miller knew something was wrong. She asked for a PAP smear and for a pregnancy test. She was denied. Her cramps and pain increased. One night, her pains became too intense for guards to ignore, and they took Miller down to the `medical unit’. There are no doctors at Dawson overnight, and so guards `took care’ of Miller. The guards said Miller merely had to go to the bathroom, gave her a menstrual pad and locked her in a holding cell. Despite Miller’s pleas, nobody came in to check, and so Autumn Miller gave birth to Gracie Miller, in the holding cell toilet. Guards then came in, shackled and handcuffed the mother, and took mother and daughter to the hospital. Gracie died four days later, in her shackled mother’s handcuffed arms.

Alisha was tried and charged as an adult in DC Superior Court when she was 16 years old. She was sent to DC’s Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF). There are no special units for female youth at CTF, so Alisha was sent to solitary confinement. For weeks at a time, she was on lockdown for 23 hours a day, unable to attend school, and could not participate in any programming available at the jail. Her attorney fought to move her to a more appropriate place that could also address her mental health concerns, but she remained there for a year and a half. In solitary confinement, she attempted suicide.

In early February 2015, Natasha McKenna was killed by six officers in the Fairfax County Jail, in northern Virginia near Washington, DC. McKenna was 37 years old. She was the mother of a 7-year-old daughter. She was living with schizophrenia. She was a diminutive woman, 5 feet 3 inches, 130 pounds. And she was Black. She was killed during a so-called cell extraction, when six deputies tackled her and took care of business.

This is the cruel and usual treatment of women in U.S. jails, across the country. There is no mystery here. There is no mystery concerning what happened to Sandra Bland. Hers was a death foretold. #SayHerName I can’t even hear.

 

(Photo Credit: Facebook) (Video Credit: YouTube)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.