From July 15 – Sitting Vigil for Sandra Bland – Arrested for failing to signal a lane change and found dead in her cell
“Blow that out,” the voice came loud and stern over the loud speakers of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office and County Jail.
Moments earlier, we had lit a votive candle on the front stoop of the building with the words, “What happened to Sandra Bland?” written on the side. As I picked up the match stubs, not wanting to give anyone cause for a litter fine, and turned back to rejoin my fellow travelers, a woman leaving her car passed me on her way to the front door.
“Can I help you with something?” she had asked politely.
“We are just here to pray,” I had replied, squinting in the darkness to try to see her face as she walked from her car. It was dark on that street, everywhere except the lights of the Sheriff’s Office. Pitch dark.
We passed one another, and as she reached the front door, she read the sign on the candle, and then continued on to open the door and walk inside.
“Blow that out,” came an angry voice addressing her over the speakers that we could not see on the side of the County Jail.
I spun around from the friends I was begin to pray with, and watched as the woman bent her body completely into a V, lifting one leg slightly off the ground as she balanced with her hand on the front door of the County Jail, and *puff* the candle was out.
Rhys and I looked at each other in shock. “She blew it out, I can’t believe she blew it out.”
I picked the unused matches back up off of the car seat where I had dropped them and slipped them into my pocket. We had known that we must be being watched. We had pulled off the main road into the neighborhood where the Sheriff’s Office lay, just a few minutes after the Texas Rangers and their vehicles had pulled out for the night.
I didn’t know Sandra Bland, but I knew people who did; I loved people who did; I share life with people who did.
She sounds like an amazing woman from their reports, but the truth of the matter is that Sandra does not need anyone to say who she was: she speaks for herself. The internet is full of her videos of inspiring and convicting messages. It turned my stomach to see the video of her explaining the importance of #BlackLivesMatter to those who use the language of #AllLivesMatter – and to know that her name is now being hashtagged as well. But she is more than a hashtag, and #BlackLivesMatter could not come close to strong enough words for what we were feeling.
Even while she believed so strongly in the power of social media: She is more than a hashtag. We are all more than a hashtag. She deserves more than our fingers typing. She deserves our lips to say her name. Our hearts to beat her name. Our feet to march her name.
So when Rhys Caraway said to me, “You think we should go to Waller?” I said, “When?” He said, “Now.” I said, “Yes.”
We decided we would take one of the votive candles we had lit for Charleston, and light one tall, lone, strong candle for Sandra in the last place she had been: Waller County.
Our friend Nina joined us and read evening prayers from the Book of Common Prayer in the backseat as Rhys and I prepared ourselves, driving past the college where both Rhys and Sandra had attended: Prairie View A&M. Rhys took anointing oil from his backpack and reached across the front seat to place it on my forehead as I drove.
It was that same anointing oil that Rhys held in his hand as we finished praying in front of the County Jail. He stood up and began to walk away from the safety of our circle and boldly towards the stoop of the County Jail. I followed him with the matches in my hand.
Rhys knelt and began to pray as he anointed the stoop with oil. Praying for truth and justice to be served.
I walked towards the candle.
“She’s going to light it again!” voices began calling to each other from the pitch darkness that surrounded us. The neighbors must have been watching. We had no way of knowing if they were friend or foe. I bent close, struck the match, and watched the wick glow out its strong but powerful statement once again: “What happened to Sandra Bland?”