Remembering Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor—and Demanding Justice

Monday marked five years since the tragic death of Sandra Bland.

In 2015, Bland, a Black woman and civil rights activist, died in police custody at the age of 28, after being arrested by state trooper Brian T. Encinia during a traffic stop in Prairie View, Texas. She was taken and held at the Waller County Jail, and was found hanging in her cell just three days later.

According to the official autopsy report by Sara Boyle, M.D., the assistant medical examiner at the time, her death was ruled a suicide (though her family argued foul play).

Bland’s death sparked protests throughout the country—and since then, Bland’s name has not faded from the Black Lives Matter movement, nor the national discussion around police brutality and race-based gun violence.

In 2018, HBO released a documentary titled “Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland.”

In 2019, previously unreleased cell phone footage taken by Bland during her arrest was made public, which shows the confrontation from her perspective, and joins a collection of all-too-familiar videos of police aggression against Black people.

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In the weeks following Bland’s death in 2015, Kimberlé Crenshaw, renowned author, feminist, teacher, lawyer and activist, spoke to Ms. about the #SayHerName campaign (which Crenshaw started):

“Even the idea of access to womanhood has been compromised by race, by Blackness in particular. Their race, their Blackness, in of itself being a masculinizing trait, undermines the ability to perceive Black women as women.

“For instance, the police officer that killed Michelle Cusseaux busted into her house to take her to a mental facility and she was standing there with a hammer. He shot her through the heart, saying that it was a ‘look on her face’ that made him fear for his life […] So it is a clear example, in my mind, of the racialization of Black women as superhuman, less than human, and definitely less than female, makes them subject to this kind of punishment and abuse.”

Justice for Breonna Taylor

Crenshaw’s words hold the same relevance and power as they did five years ago—and perhaps even more so today, which not only marks five years since the death of Bland, but also four months since the death of Breonna Taylor on March 13.

Taylor was killed when police entered her home under a no-knock warrant and opened fire on her and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, shooting her eight times and killing her.

Protests over her death and the continued inaction of the Louisville Metro Police Department in dealing with her killers continue today. Only one of the officers involved in her death has been fired from the police force. None have been arrested or charged with murder. 

Sandra Bland was 28. Breonna Taylor was 26.

Sandra Bland was about to start a job as a student ambassador to the alumni association at Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black university.

Breonna Taylor was an EMT working on the front lines of the pandemic.

Both had families and friends who still mourn them. Both stand as horrific examples of how Black women are treated in the United States. 

Both survive in name and power, reminding the country to continue to #SayHerName, to continue to fight for justice and to continue to demand a reality where Black women don’t have to fear for their lives every day.

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Gavi Klein is a junior at Brandeis University majoring in American Studies with minors in Italian Studies and Journalism. She is a contributor at Ms.