Following a traffic stop on July 10, 2015 28-year old Sandy Bland was placed in a Texas jail cell. Three days later, she was found dead of asphyxiation. Police say she hung herself. Her family says, "no way".
On July 14, 2015 18-year old Kindra Darnell was booked into an Alabama jail cell on first degree robbery. Within two hours she was found dead of asphyxiation in her cell. Police say she hung herself. Her family says, "no way".
These two, near back-to-back instances of black women found dead in their jail cells has prompted growing outrage and calls for justice by many in the U.S. The deaths of Sandy Bland and Kindra Darnell are being linked to a string of other "mysterious" hangings and deaths of African Americans - often while in the custody of police officers. In response to what appears to be a frightening pattern of these types of inexplicable deaths of blacks in America, The Truth Telling Project recently issued a call for all black Americans to take the #Iwouldnever Pledge, and to submit their signed or videotaped pledge through the website: www.thetruthtellingproject.org. The Pledge reads:
Let it be known:
I would never hang myself.
I would never shoot myself.
I would never reach for a police officer's gun.
So for the record, if I ever end up dead while in police custody or under "mysterious" circumstances related to a hanging or any other form of "suicide", it is certain that I have died at the hands of another. Please investigate the case further, and do not rule out the officers involved as suspects.
The Truth Telling Project (TTP) has committed to maintaining a record of all pledge submissions, and to reference them in the event that any of the Pledgees meet his or her demise under the type of mystifying circumstances that occurred to Ms. Bland and Ms. Darnell, and to 54 year-old Otis Byrd (March 2015, Mississippi); 21 year-old Kimberlee Randall-King (September 2014, Missouri); 17 year-old Lennon Lacy (August 2014, North Carolina); 21 year-old Chavis Carter (July 2012, Arkansas), and other African Americans. And while this will be a massive undertaking by TTP, it is deemed an absolute necessity in today's America.
The Truth Telling Project is a grassroots organization launched in Ferguson, MO following the controversial police-related shooting death of Michael Brown in August, 2014. TTPs vision is to help build a world where all persons see each other as human beings, respect each other as equal, and practice just social relationships that support a peaceful, unified America. One of the ways the organization works towards this is through the implementation of community-driven truth and reconciliation processes. Its traditional focus on "community" is what makes the #Iwouldnever initiative so fascinating; TTP is now reaching out to all individuals in the African American communal group and encouraging them to document that they would never take their own lives. And while this is encouraging, it is a sad day in America when individuals find it necessary to take the proactive measure of recording the truth about their love of life for fear that when that life ends it might randomly be chalked up to "suicide" by designees of the State.
Documenting truths related to systemic injustice is an important first step in helping individuals and communities approach the abolishment of complex structures that shield and sustain human rights abuses. Additionally, the documentation of such truths is considered a necessary step to establish the type of communal awareness, empathy and understanding required to produce enduring social change. For those Americans among us who care, getting to the truth of matters will allow us to begin constructing mechanisms for instigating the change necessary for healing the deep wounds linked to centuries of race-based oppression. This surging interest in truth-telling initiatives should help safeguard against the contemporary perpetuation of human rights atrocities like those reminiscent of an earlier America where lynchings of blacks was a frequently practiced form of domestic terrorism.
Truth matters. And while confronting truth can sometimes be painful, doing so is absolutely essential to justice, peacebuilding and healing. In fact, truth telling is directly related to the growing call for the type of U.S.-based, community-centered Truth, Reconciliation and Peace Processes (TRPPs) that I and my colleagues have been advocating for. Should they be implemented, these TRPPs could help guard against the proclivities for officials to so cavalierly disregard and devalue black lives. And while TRPPs will be no panacea to guard against human evil, they do have the potential for impacting the hearts and souls of Americans to the degree that the existent enemy status between groups is significantly diminished.
At minimum, we owe truth to the families of Ms. Bland, Ms. Darnell and so many others whose lives have ended under the veils of deep suspicion and been so arbitrarily attributed to the deceased themselves. So yes, truth matters. But more importantly, as the #Iwouldnever Pledge is intended to demonstrate -- life matters.