Hillary Clinton said that the death of Sandra Bland is an example of the “hard truths about race and justice” that America needs to face as uncertainty and anger over the circumstances of the 28-year-old’s death continued on Thursday.
Bland was found hanged in her cell in a Texas county jail on 13 July, three days after a routine traffic stop escalated into a physical confrontation.
Her family and friends have repeatedly cast doubt on the official account that she asphyxiated herself with a trash bag at the Waller county jail, in a rural area near Houston, and called for an independent investigation.
Speaking in South Carolina one day after a white man suspected of murdering nine people at a historically black Charleston church last month was charged with federal hate crimes, Clinton discussed Bland in the context of “systemic racism” in the US and high-profile deaths of African Americans at the hands of police.
“It’s heartbreaking to read of another death of a young woman, Sandra Bland. That’s why I think it’s essential that we all stand up and say, loudly and clearly, that yes, black lives matter. And we all have a responsibility to face these hard truths about race and justice, honestly and directly,” Clinton said.
Two other Democratic presidential hopefuls, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, came under scrutiny last Saturday when a speaking event in Arizona was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters who demanded to know how they would address the issue.
A rally protesting about Bland’s death was held in New York on Wednesday evening.
Black community leaders in Waller County have said that they do not trust local law enforcement and that the area has a history of racism.
Bland was in good spirits, her family said, having just arrived in Texas from Illinois for a job interview at a university and had been offered the post. The idea that she would kill herself was therefore “unfathomable”.
“We know for a certainty that when she went into that jail she was ecstatic, she had left messages for her loved ones, and that just does not jive with someone who had taken her own life,” Cannon Lambert, the family’s attorney, told reporters in Chicago on Wednesday.
A voicemail left by Bland from the jail for a friend was obtained by KTRK, a Houston television station, in which she says: “I just was able to see the judge … They got me set at a $5,000 bond. I’m just still at a loss for words about this whole process, how this switching lanes with no signal turned into all of this, I don’t even know.”
Her mental state at the time of her imprisonment remains unclear.
Waller County officials released jail booking forms on Wednesday in which Bland reported feeling depressed and said she tried to kill herself last year with pills after a “lost baby”.
But on another form, filled out about three hours later, the year of the suicide attempt is listed as 2015 and the responses indicate Bland was not feeling depressed or suicidal.
She had previously referred to feeling depressed in a Facebook post in March, but family and friends have said that she was never clinically diagnosed with depression and the post did not reflect her state of mind at the time of her death.
Dashcam video of the traffic stop from state trooper Brian Encinia’s car shows him aggressively ordering Bland to exit her car after she does not immediately obey his instruction to put out a cigarette. He begins yelling at her, threatens to “yank” her out and then draws his Taser and says “I will light you up”.
Bland leaves the vehicle, is handcuffed then heard screaming in pain off-camera and saying she has been “slammed” to the ground. Encinia has been placed on desk duty pending an investigation into his conduct.
Bland’s family flew home to Illinois on Wednesday with her body. She is to be buried in the Chicago area on Saturday.
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