Race, Social Justice

Was Sandra Bland dead in her mugshot?

And why are we at a point in time where we have to ask this sick question?

Caressa Wong’s previous work for Coming of Faith can be found here.

Amid fervent calls for justice in the case of Sandra Bland, who supposedly hung herself in jail after she was forcibly pulled from her car then tased for a minor traffic violation, recent speculation behind the release of her mugshot reveals a grim truth. Regardless of her whether or not she’s alive (considering that there is still a strong case for both possibilities), the photo is harrowing enough–especially when you take into consideration what others have been pointing out.

Here are the major things people have been noticing:

In summary, the evidence amount so far to a couple of points. The first being that Sandra is lying down in her mugshot–definitely not standard procedure. This is pretty much an accepted fact, with the obvious way her hair falls back and shoulders appear straight (possibly with arms out inside of be her side) instead of at a natural slant as well as the fact that the only surface in her cell the color of the background is the floor.

The inconsistency of her mugshot is next.  She’s in an orange jumpsuit despite only being held in prison, one that has numerous other mugshots in which other detainees are wearing their street clothes. Additionally, her official documents reveal an almost unidentifiable woman–which defeats the point of a mugshot.

To a lot of people, the lifelessness of her eyes and the previous evidence mean that Sandra Bland was dead at the time of her mugshot. While there’s actually no solid evidence pointing towards this fact, an alternative theory was proposed. In the dashcam footage of her arrest, Sandra is threatened with a taser and tells the officers that she has epilepsy. The story would go that Sandra possibly urinated after losing control of her body, prompting them to change her into clothes other than her street clothes. An epileptic attack would account for lifelessness of the eyes, as well as the need to take her mugshot in such an awkward manner. Epileptics online have also been speaking out, some saying that a lot of medicine for epilepsy can weaken the heart and might have caused Sandra’s death once tased.

This theory cannot account for the large time gap between her arrest and booking, nor can it explain the numerous inconsistencies and blanks in her official documents.

No matter what, the photo is still harrowing. Nothing can soften the grim hopelessness the picture exudes. It may not be likely that Sandra is dead in her photo, but that doesn’t make it any better.

I think we’re all tired of seeing her face around, not because she’s “old news” but because that wasn’t Sandra. It isn’t Sandra. She wasn’t just a mugshot, she was a life that was unjustly lost. It would do us good to remember that.