The tragic fate of Sandra Bland is important to us all. If you don't know by now -- and you should -- Sandra Bland is the name of the 28-year-old black woman who died in police custody after being pulled over on July 10, 2015 for an improper lane change in Waller County, Texas.
The video of Sandra Bland's arrest is important to us all. If you haven't seen it -- and you should -- it provides footage of the traffic stop, a heated verbal exchange and the arrest. It provides audio of her (legally) refusing to put out a cigarette, of Officer Brian Encinia requesting that she step out of her car, and of her declining to do so. It then shows Encinia threatening her with a taser, exclaiming: "I will light you up!" She ends up on the ground, handcuffed, arrested. She later ends up in jail and then dead in an alleged suicide.
Regardless of whether the suicide was real or staged, I think one thing is true. She wound up in police custody, where she died, because of a public servant's reaction to her words. Words that in no way posed a threat to him or to anyone else. Words that she spoke only after he commented, "You seem irritated."
Words. It was because of words.
A wave of criticism on social media about Sandra's "attitude" has underscored this fact.
-- George Carter Lee (@FFV122) July 25, 2015
No Sandra Bland Should Not Have Been Killed, But She Was Jailed Because Of Her Own Doing. It Was A Fucking Cigarette, Just Put It Out..
-- RiVi AYaLA (@AL_PaNINO_BroWN) July 24, 2015
#SandraBland should have just put her cigarette out... Not saying what happened was right, but if you want equality do it with respect....
-- Stefan Bato Momić (@BanditBato) July 23, 2015
This mentality. I cannot understand it. We're talking about two humans here. Police officers don't just get to capture -- yes, that's the word I'm going to use -- other humans simply for NOT BEING NICE TO THEM.
What if we framed the scenario differently? Imagine if, instead of a cop and driver, we were talking about a husband and wife. Imagine a similar conversation in, say, a parking lot. The wife is in the car and the husband is standing outside the car.
Husband: You seem irritated.
Wife: I am. I really am. [Explains why in an irritated tone.]
Husband: Are you done?
Wife: You asked me what was wrong and I told you. So now I'm done, yeah.
Husband: Ok. Do you mind putting out your cigarette, please?
Wife: I'm in my car; why do I have to put out my cigarette?
Husband: Well you can step on out now.
Wife: I don't have to step out of my car.
Husband: Step out of the car.
(Heated verbal exchange.)
Husband: Step out or I will remove you. I'm gonna yank you out.
(Heated verbal exchange.)
Wife: Don't touch me!
Husband: Get out of the car! Get out! Get out of the car now! I am going to drag you out of here.
Wife: You're threatening to drag me out of my own car?
Husband points weapon at wife: GET OUT OF THE CAR! I WILL LIGHT YOU UP! GET OUT! NOW!
Surely an onlooker wouldn't think this exchange is justifiable. So why, in a situation in which the man's JOB is to stay calm, to DE-escalate, why does it suddenly become justifiable?
I'm angered by the footage. I'm angry with and disgusted by those who are content to live in -- nay, to defend -- a world in which this footage is unsurprising. No. It's not okay.
It's not okay to criticize an outspoken woman for speaking out in a world that discourages outspokenness. It's not okay to criticize someone for refusing to bend to the unreasonable and irrational will of a person in power. It's not okay to support the flawed mentality that politeness is so necessary in any given exchange with another human that its absence justifies a weapon to the face. A knee to the back. A head slammed into the ground. Cuffs to the wrists.
Officer Encinia's demand that Bland step out of her car was -- literally -- unwarranted. Bland had simply bothered his fragile ego. She challenged the social hierarchy allowing Encinia to demand politeness from his "subordinates," and she did so within her rights as an American and as a human. And she was arrested for it.
This is why the tragic fate of Sandra Bland is important to us all. It exposes the terrifying reality that words, even words that pose no physical threat, can have very physical repercussions.
Black people know this and have known this for too long. And while racial discussions like this one and so many others are immeasurably important, the implications of this issue are not confined to the black community.
The tragic fate of Sandra Bland should shake us all. It should compel us to look at the social hierarchy in which we live, to realize our own positions within it, and to figure out how the hell we can even things out.
It should compel public servants to reach out to the very public they serve, and to ask us for our perspectives, suggestions, and guidance. It should compel the black community to continue the difficult and important task of raising awareness about racial issues. It should compel the white community to pitch in, to really pitch in, and speak up for those whose lives apparently depend on politeness. It should compel national and local communities to collectively challenge authority of any kind whenever it oversteps its boundaries.
It should compel us all, humans to humans, to realize that using our words -- honest, polite, impolite, irritated, and everything in between -- is the only way we're ever going to sort out this mess we call a society.
This article originally appeared on TheBadPotato.com.