Even if Sandra Bland Did Use Marijuana Before She Died, That Does Not Excuse What Happened to Her

No human being, no matter how persistently culturally oppressed, is disposable.
Publish date:
August 26, 2015
mental health, race, pot, Sandra Bland

Let me ask you a question. What helps you relax in this fucked up world? As a healing practice that’s endured the ages, smoking the gentle herb inspires me. Followed closely by laughter, marijuana’s best gift, in my opinion, is how it joins me to a global community!

Just like fame does for singers and actors, cannabis does this for regular (and frankly magical) folks. And just like the best of them (albeit in a much more literally down-to-earth context), I recognize this connection as a kind of responsibility. So, a few words about addiction. Anyone up for a sober analysis of oversized happy hour margaritas? How about an introspective chat about after-work brews with bros...?

Bypassing arguments of whether or not weed can be (physically) addictive, as opposed to “psychologically” addictive (and, honestly, what is the difference?), I ask you: Why the hierarchy between choosing to smoke a joint a day, also known as “self-medication,” and requiring daily, doctor prescribed, pharmaceutical drugs for stress, a la Prozac? And with today’s healthcare practitioners spread thinner than ever, who gets to say who knows one’s body– especially as it pertains to one’s psyche– better than oneself?

Look, I promise to get a doctor’s prescription for legal cannabis as soon as I live in a state where that is an option. I can hardly wait! It is the surest, safest treatment I’ve found for my social anxiety and occasional bouts of depression. But until then, unless you’re willing to stop hitting the bar with your friends, going on Netflix binges over the weekend, slurping sugary caffeinated drinks, popping happy pills, or whatever your version of that is, save your judgment. Please! Spare us all that burden.

Because, now that we’ve finally begun the process of legalizing weed and ending the drug wars (a process far from complete) as a nation and worldwide, it’s time to proceed in the process of normalizing its use. People who consume marijuana are not criminals. While we cope with a nation exploding with racist police brutality, clearly what we don’t need more of is policing our friends. Legalize US, already!

And by "us," I especially mean tokers of color (TOC). Now that we’ve more or less established that white people have white privilege, one of those privileges is the ease with which white kids (and by that I mean adults) can obtain, use, and exchange (federally) illegal substances (like marijuana) without harassment, arrest, or violent backlash from police, the judicial system, or the media. Of course there are numerous exceptions to this, times when white guys and (less often?) gals do get busted.

However, the statistics speak for themselves: black people, indeed, people of color in general, are many times more likely to wind up incarcerated and for longer, harsher sentences (or even to be killed) for the exact same drug offenses as the ones white people are more likely to get away with freely.

One of the most under-appreciated results of this systemic racism is the enormous physical and psychological toll it takes on black people, our health, the black psyche, and the quality of black lives overall.

Respectability politics are no help at all with this affliction.

I should know. I tried to commit suicide while I was an undergraduate at Yale, housed in the inherently racist residential college named for Confederate leader John Calhoun. My best friend helped me keep the whole incident a secret by taking me to the nearest off campus hospital, so I wouldn’t run the risk of forced exile from the ivory tower.

“Strong black woman” that I presumed myself to (have to) be, my GPA never dropped, but I didn’t seek the counseling I needed for years. Still inwardly petrified that that moment of weakness and desperation could have jeopardized everything for me – whether or not I died – I graduated with my class and with honors. I felt under tremendous pressure – not only to perform successfully at whatever I attempted next, but also to maintain a certain facade of ease and respectability, both as a young woman and as a representative of the African American race in that predominantly wealthy, white world.

With this in my background, eight years later, I have watched each detail of #WhatHappenedtoSandraBland as it gradually comes to light – including the most recent suggestion that she may have consumed marijuana not long before she died. From the questions of suicide versus lynching, to the video and audio footage, to the varying suspiciously inconsistent autopsy reports, to what we have of #SandySpeaks, Bland alive and active in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I can’t help but see myself in her shoes.

After all, I grew up in a Texas county neighboring Waller, where she died in police custody. I make my own media. I took a road trip this summer, too. I have struggled with my sense of worth, despite having made inspiring accomplishments. I don’t trust the cops.

Perhaps it’s insensitive (definitely embarrassing) to admit to this reflexive myopia on my part. But I have to consider that it might not be a bad thing for me to realize that – black, millennial, woman, activist, artist, unmarried and childless, “TOC,” world traveler, rap lover, writer, survivor, and road-tripper – my life matters. Perhaps, just this may serve as a sign of hope for our entire society. If Sandra Bland’s life matters, mine does too. If my life matters, so does yours.

Mental health is the often strenuous, constant struggle to find and foster self compassion. The opposite of mental illness, in other words, requires continuous effort and attentive care. All people deserve to know that no matter what race or gender or sexuality or other descriptor one identifies with or embodies, or not, no matter the challenges or indignities one must endure, ultimately that one does matter, holding value unique beyond comparison and equal in potential power to anyone else.

Certain ethnicities and genders and identities need that reminder – that our lives matter – more than ever, more than anything, within a society that continues to systematically and violently reinforce the opposite message, that certain lives or people or appearances are disposable. The excuses for this deadly lie are dastardly, and, sometimes, the use of marijuana is included in that devaluing calculation.

#Blacklivesmatter and #blackwomenmatter, #nativelivesmatter and #latinxlivesmatter. No habit or history or sin of human nature can refute that. Because no human being, no matter how persistently culturally oppressed, is disposable.

I am here to tell you that they might have killed Sandra Bland – corrupt police officers may have pushed her to kill herself even – but her voice, the voice of Sandy still speaks. Her spirit soars yet. Racism may have taken the life of our sister in the struggle, cruelly and far too soon. But in her name, and the names of countless others, with #JusticeforSandy still resounding, we will win this war against black bodies and black lives.

Because Sandra Bland’s life matters, my life matters and takes on new meaning through my subsequent actions, inspired by her life. That can be true for you, too, whoever you are. It all depends on what you choose to do next.

There is no excuse for what the Waller County cops did to Sandra, whether it was murder in cold blood or lynching by suicide. What remains clear beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that Sandra Bland did not need or deserve to die.

Hell, she did not deserve to be treated that way, spoken to in that tone, threatened with violence, or pulled over in the first place, let alone arrested. If she smoked weed, she did not deserve execution, and that fails to explain the proposed suicide. If she had been depressed, following a miscarriage, she deserved to be treated with compassion, not literally bullied and beaten to death. Because she spoke truth to power, Sandra Bland deserved (and deserves) respect. She did not deserve to be apprehended by white supremacists or buried as a martyr.

Yet here we are with this blood on the leaves, blood at the root