By now, the facts are well known to millions, but it is worth going over them again. On July 10, a 28-year old woman, an activist with the Black Lives Matter movement, who had recently moved to Texas for a new job at a university, was being followed too closely by a speeding car on a highway. She changed lanes to get out of the driver's way, and that should have been the end of the story, a non-event in her life. But the driver, 30-year old Brian Encinia, was a police officer, and he put his flashing lights on and made her pull over.
Three days later she was dead in a jail cell.
I found out about Sandra Bland's death after I watched the video of her arrest and abuse by Brian Encinia. When I watched it, I thought it was another routine example of police abuse and violence against black women in the US, like the crazed attack on a 14-year old girl in a swimsuit by Eric Casebolt in June (also in Texas).
Instead, it turned out I was watching the beginning of a long, drawn out sequence of torture and murder. Murder is the only word that can describe this, since, even if the extremely implausible story of her suicide turns out to be true, there is no way she would be dead now if she hadn't been arrested. Not unlike the murder of Eric Garner by a group of police in New York last year, the main killers being Daniel Pantaleo and Justin Damico of the NYPD. Or the murder of Walter Lamer Scott by Michael Thomas Slager, who gunned the man down while he fled. These are just a fraction of the cases that have been highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement (which numbered Sandra Bland among its activists).
And Black Lives Matter, while gathering the numbers and leveling a systemic critique, can conceivably only focus on a fraction of the hundreds of people killed by law enforcement personnel in the US each year. Killings by US police are far higher than most other Western countries. There are different ways of counting, and different institutions doing the counting. But whether you look at the Guardian's database, the Killedbypolice.net database, the Fatal Encounters database, or some other, we seem to be living in the midst of an upsurge of murders by police, targeting especially ordinary unarmed black citizens, male or (now) female.