By now, the mysterious affair of Sandra Bland's arrest and subsequent death in custody has become the stuff of daily, albeit uncomfortable, conversation. Did she really commit suicide? Was she high? Was she already dead when the mugshot was taken? Amidst all these disconcerting uncertainties, one overwhelming narrative has emerged: that, ultimately, it was her 'arrogance' and 'attitude' that led to her over-the-top, aggressive arrest. If only she had put her cigarette out, obliged to every command by the officer, and not attempted to cite her rights in the way she did, she would probably be alive and free right now.
(video of Sandra Bland's arrest)
Now, it is no secret that the United States is currently going through a period of heightened racial tension, characterized most by the death of people of color at the hands of law enforcement. Thus, because this conversation is likely to draw impassioned and perhaps subjective reactions from either side at face value, allow me to deviate for a moment for the purposes of perspective.
Humor me as I 'digress' and talk about yet another blight on today's society: rape culture.
Rape culture, explained as “a culture in which dominant cultural ideologies, media images, social practices, and societal institutions support and condone sexual abuse by normalizing, trivializing and eroticizing male violence against women and blaming victims for their own abuse” ) is sadly a defining characteristic of the heteropatriarchal world order in which we live. It is why elected officials can remark publicly that 'some girls rape easy', why these men took it upon themselves to strip and harass a woman perceived to be a prostitute, and why more than half of the rapes that occur are never reported. It boils down to one crucial factor, that victims of rape and other forms of sexual abuse bring it upon themselves by how they dress, where they are (the aggressor's house, a bar, traveling late at night etc), how they behave (pictures on social media, getting drunk, flirting) or what they say. That is rape culture: (mostly) women behave in a way that leaves the (mostly) men no option but to have their way with them.
Rape Culture is pathetic. It is also the same logic at play when we argue that, had Sandra Bland been 'polite', she would still be alive today. In both cases, we shift the blame from the overwhelming aggressor to the victims, simply because the aggressor felt provoked by the victim. The fact that the police officer's ego may have been bruised by Bland's (perfectly legal, by the way) responses and (also legal) smoking because of her apparent attitude, is in no way vindication for his violent handling of her any more than the fact that some fellow danced sensually with a woman in a sexy outfit is vindication of a rape thereafter!
And as discussions continue surrounding Sandra Bland's conduct, it is also important to realize she was a civilian dealing with a (supposed) professional, trained in the art of handling people from all walks of life and de-escalating conflict. Understanding that allows us to shift the responsibility back to where it ought to have been: the person trained to deal with people having a bad day and paid to 'protect and serve.'
So here we stand. Sandra Bland ended up behind bars, fatefully so, because her attitude did not sit right with the officer. So here we stand. Several rape survivors will never see justice, if they ever speak up at all, because society has convinced itself that the fault lies with them for provoking rapists.
Victim-blaming logic is not only terrifyingly dangerous, it should also be deemed very offensive by groups from which the perpetrators come. Law enforcement should be offended and ashamed by any argument that suggests that their character and training is not equipped enough to deal with 'sass'. Men should be offended and ashamed by any argument that suggests that their desire for sex is irrationally animalistic that they are unable to control themselves when they feel provoked.
Said arguments imply that people, in their privileged place on the food chain and with all rational thought and information accorded to them, still succumb to the irrationality with which wild animals make the decisions.
Oh, that's where I was going with that opening. I said "Conventional wisdom dictates that when you run into a grizzly bear. or a snake, or a leopard, your best bet is to remain calm and move ever so little... : the reason being that these beasts, incapable of high level reasoning, act purely on animal instinct." Now, replace 'grizzly bear' with Officer Bob or Ray the Rapist, and we have the exact same arguments that the politics of responsibility that mandates that, if you act 'just right' in the eyes of the
Rest in Peace Sandra Bland.