Respectability Politics: “You should have thought about that before you resisted!”

The complete video footage of the arrest of Sandra Bland was released on Wednesday. Previously, we had seen the footage captured by an onlooker from a distance, to which Sandra Bland can be heard saying “Thank you for recording!” Those would be some of the last words she said before she entered the Waller County Jail In Prairie View, Texas. She never left that jail,as she was found hanging in her jail cell on July 13th, three days after her arrest. The county jail had desires to rule her death as a suicide, but from the beginning, her family, friends, and the black community at large have been fighting against this stories in efforts to find out what really happened.

The dashcam footage that was released was clearly edited, as there are parts where you see a car passing multiple times and not completely passing the dashcam. In the dashcam video, the first part of this altercation takes place where the officer asks her to put out her cigarette. Cigarettes are starting to play an even bigger role in policing, don’t you think? This actions alone is the first instance of respectability politics. In expecting Sandra to put out her cigarette in her own car, it implied that she could not even be considered as someone worthy of hearing out by smoking, which is something that is widely common and accepted in this country, and it is certainly not illegal in this country to smoke a cigarette in one’s car. Her refusal to do so asserted her power as a law abiding citizen who knows their rights, which made the officer feel threatened, which prompted him to tear open her car door and become aggressive. Later on, in the footage recorded by the bystander, we see the police officer being rough with Sandra, who is being held on the ground at that point. We hear her complaining about not being able to hear and having epilepsy, to which the female officer who had only just then arrived at the scene, told Sandra, “You should have thought about that before you arrested!”

This is problematic on so many levels, and only lends to the uncovering of the truth that the Texas police are now attempting to hide. To tell a someone that they should have done something to end up in a different situation implies that they had an option of changing the situation. In this society, we see constantly instances of police brutality where the victims had done nothing to instigate the situation, much like Sandra Bland. In this country, especially in the black and brown community, we are taught to fear the police and not start problems with cops because it gives them grounds to do things like this and then justify it to the public. To have to be told to not stand your ground and defend yourself is such a scary thing, especially if you are on the unarmed side of the altercation. Whether you fight back or not, you put yourself in the line of danger, and you become unsure of just how far the cops will take it, no matter how small the original issue was.

Let’s take a moment and address what the female officer had said to Sandra: “You should have thought about that before you resisted!” Imagine if Sandra Bland had gone into an epileptic seizure and had died. To tell anyone with a disability or health issue that they should have taken extra steps and done something out of their control, you imply that they cannot be seen as human because they don’t fit into the standard norms. This is generally faced by those who don’t fit into the sphere of whiteness. They are told that their norms are lower than the norms of whiteness, and they as a result should be treated as such. These officers and officers around the country lack the empathy that they need in order to uphold their goals to serve and protect. These officers hold instilled views that favor racism-white supremacy, and that combined with the training to treat every colored person as a threat leads to them continued system of police brutality.

Just because a black person or a person of color sags their pants, or blast their music, or some other trope or stereotype, does not mean that these people are unworthy of justice. The killing of any unarmed person, regardless of employment status, or clothing, deserves the truth and justice given to others, as is their birthright. People of color are asking for equal access, for equal ability to live, to breathe, to make mistakes just the same as everyone else. Instead of judging what a person was doing, instead, we should focus on holding accountable the police system of the United States of America, as it has failed us over and over again. ALL black lives matter, ALL people of color matter. No matter how educated or wealthy you are, in the end, you can still face discrimination and scrutiny for the color of your skin.



2 thoughts on “Respectability Politics: “You should have thought about that before you resisted!”

  1. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that this woman was purposefully killed in custody, probably for the crime of “disrespect.” All too often, especially with people of color–though it happened to a friend of mine, a white middle-class business owner just a month ago–police escalate situations out of a perceived lack of respect. Ms. Bland’s crime was to not do enough to make the arresting officer and his comrades feel good about themselves. The catch-all here is “disorderly conduct,” which a police friend of mine admitted is one “what you charge someone when they’re being an asshole, but not really doing anything criminal.” Ms. Bland argued–she questioned the legitimacy of the cop’s actions, refused to be bullied, and for that she deserved punishment. I imagine the staged hanging was either a straight-forward tactic to silence her, or an act of intimidation gone too far. It is a shame that in three days time the news cycle will have moved on, Ms. Bland will be forgotten, and the status quo will continue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The saddest part of this is, this isn’t even the only instance of police brutality toward unarmed people this week, and it most definitely the only instance of the day. If I were compile all of them and rehumanize them instead of tearing them down, like the media has been doing, then I would never be finished writing. We’ve come to a sad state when we’ve come to the point of normalizing the death of unarmed people.


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