Hundreds at jailed black woman's funeral

A protestor demonstrates outside the funeral for Sandra Bland in the Chicago suburb of Lisle, Illinois, US, on July 25, 2015.
A protestor demonstrates outside the funeral for Sandra Bland in the Chicago suburb of Lisle, Illinois, US, on July 25, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

LISLE (Illinois) • Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Ms Sandra Bland, a black woman found dead in a Texas jail days after she was arrested following a minor traffic offence, an incident said by activists to be yet another example of police brutality towards minorities.

Texas sheriff R. Glenn Smith, whose policies came under intense criticism after the incident, has said he is seriously considering disciplinary action against jail staff members for not fulfilling state requirements for mental health training.

Mourners, including politicians, lined up for more than an hour on Saturday outside the DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle, Illinois, to file past an open casket and attend the funeral.

"This is not a moment of defeat, this is an hour of victory... We are not funeralising a martyr or a victim, we are celebrating a hero," said Reverend James Miller, who led the funeral service. He asked everyone to pressure the government for a federal investigation into Ms Bland's death.

Ms Bland, 28, was pulled over by a white Texas state trooper on July 10 near Prairie View, Texas, north-west of Houston, for failing to signal a lane change. The stop escalated into an altercation between her and the trooper, and she was taken into custody, then charged with assaulting an officer. She was found hanging in her jail cell on July 13 with a plastic rubbish bag round her neck.

Sheriff Smith said on Friday that plastic rubbish liners were recommended by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, but he called their use a mistake in the light of what had happened. "I don't think there's a direct cause that was created by this jail," he said. But he added that if changes in jail procedures could help "prevent another one, then we're going to do it."

An autopsy preliminarily confirmed an initial finding by a medical examiner that the death was a suicide. Her mother and four sisters, however, have expressed strong doubts that Ms Bland, passionate about civil rights and excited about a new job, would take her own life.

The trooper, who has been placed on desk duty for violating protocol in the arrest, had pointed a stun gun at Ms Bland and said he would drag her out of the car.

Said Sheriff Smith: "The death of Sandra Bland is not going to go out of our minds... It won't go out of mine the rest of my life."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2015, with the headline 'Hundreds at jailed black woman's funeral'. Subscribe