Sandra Bland’s mother: ‘Baby did not take herself out’
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Weeks before Sandra Bland was found dead in a Texas jail cell, she had a heart-to-heart conversation with her mother at a church event.
They talked about life’s ups and downs — the disappointments and the good times. And about what 28-year-old Bland called her life’s purpose: to fight racial injustice.
“She shared with me her joys and pains…it’s almost like she ran down her entire life,” her mother Geneva Reed-Veal told a capacity crowd on Saturday at Bland’s funeral at the DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle.
“If you would have told me I’d be standing here today, I would have told you, ‘No way,’” Reed-Veal said to those inside the church and in two spillover rooms in the basement and chapel.
Hundreds came to say good bye to the former Naperville resident whose death drew national attention following a traffic stop.
“I want everybody to understand Sandy knew what her purpose was,” Reed-Veal said, describing her daughter’s interest in highlighting police brutality.
And she adamantly disputed the official finding that Bland killed herself using a noose fashioned from a plastic garbage bag.
“I’m the mom and I’m telling you that baby did not take herself out,” Reed-Veal said to applause.
Bland’s mother said she hasn’t been able to recoup her daughter’s personal belongings from Texas authorities, and has plenty of questions.
“The fact is I’m the mom, and I still don’t know what happened to my baby. . . .I want to know what happened to my baby. I’m gonna find out what happened to my baby. My baby has spoken. She’s still speaking and no, she didn’t kill herself.”
Bland was laid to rest in all white suit. A peach and yellow rose was placed on top of her body. Her white casket had the words, “Sandra Bland AKA ‘Sandy,’” on it.
Mourners and family members wore pins with a picture of Bland, and the words “#SandySpeaks.” It’s the hashtag Bland created in January as a way to speak out against racial injustice in the country, of which she had been researching for months, mourners said Saturday.
Others wore t-shirts with the hashtag – the words “Unite not incite,” on the back.
Many of Bland’s former classmates and friends – part of the teen choir she was in – returned home to sing at her funeral at the church she once attended.
“We will not funeralize a martyr or a victor. We will celebrate a hero,” church pastor James F. Miller said. “….Sandy was ours and we take care of our own.”
Miller urged mourners to “go online and shut down the justice department’s website asking for a federal investigation into her death.”
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill. were among those in attendance.
Durbin and Foster said they are sending U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch letters requesting a full investigation. Durbin said the letters ask for a “full, complete, unbiased investigation.”
“In fairness to Sandy, in fairness to her family, in fairness to this great nation, we need to know those answers,” Durbin said.
Durbin called Bland’s arrest “highly questionable.” Bland’s “amazing” life, Durbin said, was cut “way, way too short.”
Durbin described his route to the church from Chicago, saying he noticed many people changing lanes in traffic with many of them not using their signal: “And their life continues at this moment,” he said to loud claps.
During the funeral service, Bland’s cousin Chauntina Clark also performed a praise dance in her honor.
Two days ago, Waller County authorities said Bland’s autopsy revealed there were no injuries to suggest she was killed by someone else.
Bland was arrested in a traffic stop three days before she was found in her cell on July 13.
Booking documents filled out for Bland indicate she told jail staff staff she was taking the drug Keppra for epilepsy.
Other forms, however, say she was not on medication.
A woman who was in a jail cell next to Bland said Bland was emotional and often wept while behind bars.
Alexandria Pyle told Houston television station KTRK that Bland was “sort of distraught” that a friend had not come to bail her out of jail. She said Bland told her she “was not equipped” for incarceration and thought she was the victim of an injustice.
Pyle said she heard no signs of a struggle in the cell.
Bland’s death comes after nearly a year of heightened national scrutiny of police and their handling of black suspects who have been killed by officers or die in police custody. The issue has resonated on social media, with posts questioning the official account and featuring the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland.
Bland’s family said she was looking forward to starting a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. At the funeral Saturday, her mother said, “If she was a criminal, ain’t no way she would have been hired at one of the best…companies.”
However, Bland posted a video to her Facebook page in March, saying she was suffering from “a little bit of depression as well as PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Her sister said that “everyone has peaks and valleys” and that the Facebook video might indicate her sister was just having a bad day or a bad few days.
Dashcam video of Bland’s arrest shows state trooper Brian Encinia drawing a stun gun and threatening Bland when she refuses to follow his orders.
The incident began when the trooper stopped Bland for failing to signal a lane change.
The conversation turned hostile after Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette and she asked why she couldn’t smoke in her own car. The trooper then ordered Bland to get out of the vehicle. She refused, and was told she was under arrest.
The roadside encounter swiftly escalated into a shouting confrontation, with Encinia threatening to drag her out of the car. At one point, he warned Bland, “I will light you up.”
The trooper, who has been on the force for just over a year, has been placed on administrative leave for violating unspecified police procedures and the department’s courtesy policy.