Tomorrow marks the first day of a new month, and it could be the first day of a new chapter in Waller County’s history. That will only come to pass, however, if the people of Waller County want it.
Primary elections for both the Democratic and Republican parties will be held on March 1st, and on the ticket for Sheriff, you will still find Sheriff R. Glenn Smith.
Yes, that Sheriff Smith.
What truly made me marvel was not that Sheriff Smith was still running even after a year full of highly public mishaps that embarrassed the County. Instead, it was the slogan that his supporters had chosen: “Keep R. Glenn Smith Sheriff – Sheriff for the Next Generation of Waller County.”
Driving past these signs on the backroads of Waller County, as I journeyed to help facilitate a leadership retreat for some of our nation’s most promising young minds, the irony of those words was not lost on me.
Sheriff for the Next Generation of Waller County.
I can and do understand how people have felt offended that rightful criticism of the Sheriff reflected on their County, and I do understand how that has made people defensive at times. It is one thing, however, to defend what you have; it is quite another thing to not want something better for your children. It is one thing to resist chaos by trying to protect the stability of your community from what you see as outside forces; it is another thing to reject change when it is handed to you and all you have to do is take it with your ballot.
You see that “Next Generation of Waller County” is my generation and my nieces’ generation. A generation is not bound by County lines, it is bound by common experience and common calling. It is bound by the fact that as time goes on, we will have to figure out together what to do with the messes and the blessings that others have left behind for us. Our responsibility to one another is not now, nor will it be in the future, limited by County, State or even National boundaries.
As Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
My responsibility to my generation lies in my concern not only for the magnificent Prairie View A&M students, but also for the young, local white man their age who came to the jail once and spent the day sitting with me just because he wanted to know for himself whether we were the monsters people said we were. We gave him water, and laughter, and friendship, and I respected his courage to sit out there with us, just to know for himself what was going on. I have a responsibility to the young, local white woman, whose pastor brought her to meet the “Wicked Witch of Waller” so that she could know for herself whether I was truly what people said I was. I have a responsibility to the young woman who came to the jail the day after Sheriff R. Glenn Smith threatened us and told me to go back to the Church of Satan; she came to me with tears in her eyes and begged me to be careful, telling me that I was in more danger than I thought. I have a responsibility to the young men and women who lived around the jail and truly loved me and truly were concerned whether I had enough water and food and strength.
Yet, perhaps even more than to them, I have a responsibility to the young woman who tried to lure me to a local restaurant for who knows what reason when folks were looking for me to “confront” me. And I have a responsibility to the young mothers, women in my generation, who sat at home and commented on posts about Sandra, or about those holding vigil, or reported when and where they had last seen my car, concerned that their way of life was being threatened by calls for justice. I was tired, but I could have done better by them. I could have tried harder to find a way to communicate to them that God’s justice is for their children as well and that we are all in this together.
As Ephesians 2:19 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household…”
For them, for their children, I believe that God has something better in store for them than the kind of repetitive injustice, threats, and danger that many before them have already known. I believe that Justice for Sandra Bland, also means Justice for them and for their neighbors. I believe that we are all connected in a web of mutual responsibility.
God has something better for “The Next Generation of Waller County” than what has come before because we are called not to fear the future and protect the ways of the past, but to serve a God who promises to “make all things new.”
Even as voices continue to seek justice, transparency and answers, the people of Waller County have an opportunity themselves to quite easily, without investigation or legal case, offer accountability for the way they have been represented. Vote.
How they vote will show us whether R. Glenn Smith represents who they are and who they want to be, or whether he does not.
I pray that they will show us that they truly do want something better for “The Next Generation of Waller County.”
I am writing to you because I remain in possession of one of the many lives you put at risk when you and Sheriff Hickman blamed the shooting of Deputy Goforth on #BlackLivesMatter, resulting in threats being directed towards those holding vigil for Sandra Bland at the Waller County Jail.
Now, today, the Houston NAACP is honoring you as a white ally in naming you one of the 2016 Alex Award recipients for an outstanding commitment to Equal Justice and Legal Excellence.
All of the discussion that this has prompted has brought back unpleasant memories of those days of my life that caused my mother the most anxiety. Let me explain.
On July 13, when Sandra Bland’s friends found out that she had died, it caused great pain in our community of Houston. Many Houston residents were Prairie View alumni who knew, or knew of, Sandra Bland. She was the type of woman who made an impression. As uproar grew, one of those Prairie View alum, my friend Jeremyah, continuously peppered my phone with comments from his friends, and his own concerns, as well as the hashtag #WhatHappenedToSandraBland. My spirit sat heavy within me; I was deep in prayer all afternoon on July 15th, until late in the evening, my friends Nina and Rhys agreed to go out with me to the jail where Sandra died. It was simple. We lit a candle and we prayed.
Yet, that simple act became contagious. Others joined in, everyone from local farmers to a Lutheran Bishop, and we kept vigil there for 80 days. Intimidation attempts from Sheriff R. Glenn Smith escalated after the first month, and he earned himself a spot in the 2016 Texas Bum Steer Awards when he told me to go back to the Church of Satan. There was risk involved, yet what truly intensified the risk was your words on August 29th.
That week, on August 27 a member of the Katy Fire Department began to publicize in a private Waller County group, the Waller County News, that he was lying in wait for us at the Waller County Jail. Other members of the group tried to help him find me by telling him what kind of car I drove, and one messaged me and tried to lure me to a local restaurant to trap me. Unfortunately for him, there was a health emergency with my Aunt Jackie that had called me away and he did not find me there. They assumed it was cowardice, my mother claimed it as Divine Providence. He returned the next day, the 28th, and did not find me then either.
That same evening, however, another family was deprived of their father and husband in the tragic and unexpected shooting of Deputy Darren Goforth.
There were clues from the outset that Deputy Goforth was actually at the gas station with his mistress, not on patrol; yet, rather than investigating that aspect, officials rushed quickly to the promote the idea that #BlackLivesMatter was at fault, which provided what they thought would be an acceptable catharsis for them in the midst of building tensions and grief.
Perhaps this decision was affected by the fact that the Officer investigating the shooting of Deputy Goforth, Sgt. Craig Clopton, was having a sexual relationship with Deputy Goforth’s mistress himself, as was Deputy Marc DeLeon and potentially others. How might that have affected their investigation? Knowing that the eyewitness to the crime was someone multiple officers were involved with. I can imagine they might want to divert attention from that fact.
The next day, on August 29th, you did a press Conference in which you and Sheriff Ron Hickman blamed the shooting on #BlackLivesMatter activists with no proof for your accusation except that Darren Goforth had his uniform on while meeting up with his mistress and the man who shot him happened to be black. Your careless rush to judgment and your call upon “the silent majority in America to support law enforcement” put many lives at risk.
The very next day, Breitbart seized upon the opportunity that your words had given them. For more than a month, we had seen reporters Lana Shadwick and Bob Price come around the Waller County Jail. All that we had given to them, however, was an unapologetic solidarity with Sandra Bland and an unapologetic commitment to the rights of people of color. We did not give them the material that they wanted in order to distort the #BlackLivesMatter movement as built on hatred of white people rather than a love for black people.
Your words gave them the excuse they had been waiting for, however, as they pulled out photos almost a month old and wrote a scathing and dishonest article about what had been going on at the Waller County Jail. They drew from what had happened on two days of what was close to 50 days to perpetrate a lie, creating a false impression that it was protestors and not Sheriff R. Glenn Smith that were carrying arsenals of machine guns around in their trucks on a daily basis.
Following that, retired law enforcement officer Nathan Ener put out a highly publicized video encouraging people to drive away or kill the #BlackLivesMatter activists at the Waller County Jail. The lack of consequences that resulted from his threats exhibited how socially acceptable racism is amongst law enforcement and officials. For Texas officials to allow that to pass only two months after Dylann Roof carried out similar orders, inspired by similar videos, at a church in Charleston was callous beyond belief.
Yet, you know who was out there in front of the Waller County Jail in the line of fire that next week? A bunch of pastors and farmers and activists. That day. And the next day. And the next day. And the next day… because Sandra Bland does not have justice yet, and her life matters.
Perhaps that is something you can think about as you receive this award for a Commitment to Equal Justice from the NAACP today. Look around you at the beautiful lives that surround you and ask yourself, do they have equal justice? Are they as safe in Texas as you are? There is room in the movement for everyone, and it is never too late to start to say: Black Lives Matter. It is never too late for true repentance, a changing of actions and not merely words.
Perhaps a good place to start would be to #SayHerName #SandraBland and demand the Department of Justice investigate Waller County. Just a thought.
“It wasn’t me. It was her! It was her!,” Sheriff R. Glenn Smith joked, pointing at Officer L. Watts, a female, African American Officer on his force. It was individuals like Officer Watts that Sheriff Smith had referred to repeatedly in the media when arguing that there could not have been any racial component in Sandra Bland’s arrest and death because not all his staff was white.
On hard benches outside of the District Courtroom on the third floor of the Waller County Courthouse sat several Sandra Bland supporters, Officers from the Waller County Sheriff’s staff, and several members of the media. Many familiar faces sought or avoided eye contact as the same officers who had walked past those holding vigil for Sandra Bland now had to sit across from them while members of the press, who had once sweltered in the July heat, typed away on their laptops only a feet away.
When Officer Penny Goodie, of the Prairie View Police Department, emerged from the Courtroom looking dazed, she was quickly ushered down the stairs by a fellow female, African American Officer, S. Rutledge of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, before a voice said that Sheriff R. Glenn Smith was up next.
Emerging from Judge Albert M. McCaig, Jr.’s office, the room next to the courtroom, Sheriff Smith sauntered slowly past the Sandra Bland supporters to the door of the courtroom and took a seat on the bench. After a few minutes a man poked his head out and said to the Sheriff, “You’re good to go!” At which point, overcome with good humor, Sheriff Smith turned to Officer L. Watts and Officer J. Henry and delivered his crowd-pleasing line, “It wasn’t me. It was her! It was her!” before chuckling and sauntering back past the Sandra Bland supporters and into Judge McCaig’s office once again to rejoin his Captain of Patrol, Officer Brian Cantrell, and the others gathered there.
A few minutes later, Sheriff Smith re-emerged from the Judge’s office whistling, as he had been wont to do several times in the preceding hours, and strolled up and down the hall before returning to the Judge’s office once again. It was a ritual that he would repeat several more times before the Officers seemed to tire of our social media reporting from the scene and demanded that “the public” leave at 5:00 pm; forcing everyone down the stairs and out into the quickly gathering dusk of evening, over the protests of local Waller leaders and television reporters who had never experienced such a curfew before.
The intentionality and persistence with which the Sheriff sought to flaunt what he saw as his triumph was unlike anything I had seen outside of slightly comedic scenes in television or on the stage. The exaggerated slowness of the saunter and persistent whistle was akin to a scene out of the early days of silent film, when the characters had to exaggerate their movements to get their point across without the assistance of audio. I was torn, uncertain whether he intended to be menacing or humorous; I suppose it was a little of both, for there have always been those who find amusement in seeking to intimidate others.
I could not help but wonder what these Officers on the bench across from me were really thinking and feeling. Certainly, I knew they were not too fond of me. I recognized Officer J. Henry from that time he walked behind Ranger and I as we sat in front of the Waller County Jail and joked to Assistant Chief Jailer L. Thibodeaux, “Got any room left in there?” (“For what?”) “For these two.” Yet, even so, putting their feelings for me aside, I found it hard to believe that they could feel proud of the behavior that their supervisor was exhibiting.
I have struggled for months to find a word to really capture the Sheriff’s particular brand of unassailable privilege that seeks to flaunt itself. The only word I have been able to quite find to describe it is hubris, but even that word seems to fall short of capturing its essence.
Or perhaps, on second thought, hubris does work. For it was that pomposity in the Greek tragedies that led the men of myth and legend to make decisions out of pride so excessive that it defied even the gods. In the Christian tradition, it was akin to the pride of Saul with his height, Samson with his strength, and Absalom with the flowing locks that were his undoing.
I have spent a good amount of time around the men and women of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office & Jail over the past five months. Enough time to have a certain fondness for some of them that makes me wonder if they feel trapped in the roles they occupy, or if they carry out their duties willingly. Enough time to have a healthy caution around others of them, whom I have watched as they have watched me; doing so long enough to know that the uneasy feeling I have in their presence never goes away. Enough time to know that even if they felt their stories were true, the Sheriff’s Office has wrapped them in so much subterfuge that it would be impossible for them to ever ring true now.
And so it happened, that we found ourselves ejected from the doors of the Waller County Courthouse by some of those same Officers, Rutledge, Watts, and Henry, to stand on the sidewalk outside of the Waller County Courthouse with a cadre of stunned television reporters who could not believe that they had really just been rudely tossed out of the building.
I could not help wondering, as I always do, why was it that the Sheriff always had his African American Officers be the ones to engage when there were people in protest or vigil.
Actually, no, that is not what I wondered. I knew the answer to that, as the well-informed reader will as well. The actual question in my mind was: how did these Officers feel about being used that way? They had to be familiar with the Sheriff’s rhetoric that he could not be racist because they were on his staff. And they had to have noticed, as we all did, that they were always the ones chosen to be on the front lines; from the time when Rutledge and other African American staff were sent into the lobby first to ask protesters to leave, all the way up to tonight, when she was once again put in that position, along with Watts and Henry, while white Officers and staff watched through the frosted glass door of Judge McCaig’s Office.
I know they seem to hate me, and they probably think I hate them; but in truth, I can’t help but love them and hurt for them and wish we could all be set free from the bondage of this patriarchal, white supremacist culture that prioritizes the comfort of white men over the lives of black women: whether it be Sandra Bland or Officer S. Rutledge.
After 4 hours of waiting in the dark, the five special prosecutors finally emerged from the darkened Courthouse and descended the stairs towards the presser. Darrell Jordan, the spokesperson for the special prosecutors approached the microphone and began, “After presenting all of the evidence, as it relates to the death of Sandra Bland, the Grand Jury did not return an indictment…”
Sheriff R. Glenn Smith watched through the glass doors from the hallway above (just as those gathered with him had watched through the frosted glass door of Judge McCaig’s Office), as we now listened to the news that neither he, nor anyone on his staff would be indicted in the death of Sandra Bland.
His victory seemed to be complete.
Yet, it would only appear that way to someone who did not know the way that stories about hubris end.
There are few vehicles in the world that I am more familiar with than the Waller County Sheriff’s truck. In the 80 consecutive days that we sat in vigil for Sandra Bland outside the Waller County Jail, I lost count of how many times we saw it parked around the side of the building for the inmates in orange jumpsuits to wash by hand.
So when I heard last week that an arsenal of guns, including a powerful machine gun, had been stolen from that same truck, I could not help but wonder how many times those inmates had been within inches of that arsenal without knowing it.
It was a sobering thought indeed to realize that even the Sheriff himself was not immune to the creeping fear of Waller County.
I had spent months sitting in Waller County before I could verbalize that feeling. The creeping fear. The understanding of your context that grows with time. Wears you down. Remarkable, then, that the Sheriff, who many credit with helping create it, actually felt it himself, for I do not doubt his words. When he said to reporters that he felt the need to carry all those guns partly because of death threats he had received after Sandra Bland, I take him partly at his word. As a woman who carries the Book, I’ve turned to the Book to deal with my own death threats; so I can accept that as a man who carries a gun, he would turn to guns to cope with his.
Since recognizing that almost tangible sensation of fear, I have tried to understand what creates or contributes to this atmosphere.
Encyclopedia Brittanica defines learned helplessness as, “a mental state in which an organism forced to bear aversive stimuli, or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are “escapable,” presumably because it has learned that it cannot control the situation.”
The phenomenon was originally discovered when dogs ceased to try to escape after repeatedly being shocked. Even if you turned off the shock fence, they would not try to escape because they had learned they were helpless. This was confirmed in human behavior as well.
Learned helplessness is the kind of phenomenon that might develop if a town were to terminate their Chief of Police, only to have him elected Sheriff and positioned in an office less than a mile away from the one he was forced to vacate. That is what happened to Hempstead when R. Glenn Smith was terminated by vote of the City Council, only to be elected Sheriff by Waller County and positioned in an office 2 minutes driving, or 15 minutes walking, from his original post.
Learned helplessness might also develop if the media praised that same Sheriff for his transparency and search for accountability, when citizens knew it was anything but that. That is what happened when media praised Sheriff R. Glenn Smith for naming an independent citizen review board to “investigate” the jail after Sandra Bland’s death and to be headed up by what the press described as a Houston attorney who was “not personal friends” with the Sheriff. What the media failed to note was that the Austin St. address of Looney’s offices were actually across the street from the Waller County Court House and that he shared those offices with Judge Trey Duhon who was a personal friend of the Waller County Sheriff. Duhon and Looney were said to have cut ties to avoid any undue influence; yet, if you drive past the Waller County Court House, you will still see this sign hanging.
Thus, for those paying attention on the ground, it came as no surprise when Looney came forward later on to say that his review was really just casual and for the eyes of the Sheriff alone for him to do with what he wanted. Many at a distance had been fooled into thinking this was a sign of hope. Yet, it is what has proven to be a classic stalling technique to distract the press and the populace.
Another example would be when DA Elton Mathis said that Sandra Bland’s death would be investigated as a murder, then quickly followed it up with a statement a couple days later that it had been deemed a suicide. Yet, that initial statement distracted people repeatedly as it was shared again and again as the months wore on.
Perhaps the strongest illustration of how learned helplessness is maintained, however, was the arrest of the Honorable Jonathan Miller. Shortly after he had voted to confirm the naming of the road Sandra Bland was arrest on Sandra Bland Parkway, the Honorable Jonathan Miller, the youngest City Councilman on Prairie View’s City Council, was shot with a taser and arrested in his own front yard. His crime? Questioning why police were hassling his guests in his front yard. The police officers insisted they had very good reason to be questioning his friends; yet, once they had Jonathan Miller tased and on the ground, they told his friends they could disperse and that they had no problem with them. Since that time, the Honorable Jonathan Miller has not been able to be employed in his occupation as a teacher because DA Elton Mathis has neither moved forward with the case, nor dropped the charges against him. Leaving him in a cruel limbo until the timing is right in the press or, more likely, until the press goes away. The message is clear: if this can happen to a City Councilman, why could it not happen to you or your neighbor? Why even try?
Fear of Retaliation
Witnessing events like this over and over again leads to a fear of retaliation. On August 11, I arrived at the jail to discover a group of women waiting for me. Although their presence was alarming at first, they were not waiting for me for the reason you might have guessed. The first words were spoken with tears in their eyes, “Please, please be careful…” as I promised them that I would before they drove off. They were concerned because the day before the Sheriff had told me 1) to go back to the Church of Satan 2) that there would be consequences for myself, those with me, and anyone who tried to help me 3) that things would be different if I came back the next day. Therefore, their concern when I returned the next day
The fear that I had seen in their eyes was something that I would see and hear again on an almost a daily basis from many in the area of Hempstead who wanted to help or befriend me, but were terrified of the consequences for doing so. What would the consequences be? I do not know; but the terror was real and tangible. I do not have an explanation, that is their story to tell; what I have is an observation. People will say, as they have said, that this is all made up and I am just a really good writer; to which I say: a) Thank you for the compliment b) If people feel authentic fear I am not going to divulge personal details about them in order to prove a point.
This fear is kept relevant by small and persistent signs of intimidation. As our vigil for Sandra Bland wore away at people’s fear, the walls protecting the culture of fear were reinforced by small yet public acts of intimidation. Many people are aware of the cycle of intimidation that ran its course and sputtered out between the Sheriff’s department and the Sandra Bland supporters. By that I am referring to the “Church of Satan” – erection of barricades -cutting down of trees – reporting to the FBI – dismantling of toxic barricades – welding of permanent steel barricades – removal of prayer stones – paving of the parking lot – cycle of intimidation through which the Sheriff mysteriously carried out “maintenance” that had been delayed for years or decades in a matter of weeks in an attempt to dissuade our prayer vigil from continuing.
What most are not aware of are the men who sat in cars and watched us. The men who sat in cars and followed us. The man who sat watching me in a green car in the parking lot of Hope AME and ominously asked me, “Is this your church?” To which I could most easily reply, “It is not. It is God’s.” We can only imagine that our experience is not an isolated experience.
Insulated Social Media
Yet, while our experience of intimidation may not be different, our experience of social media does seem to be. People around the country noticed from the start that there was something peculiar about the social media world of Waller County and the way officials engaged on social media when Judge Trey Duhon tweeted about Sandra Bland from what seemed to be a professional account.
Granted, many of us tweet very opinionated or strongly worded tweets on a regular basis; but what was unusual was that it was coming from an account titled @WallerInfo. For many, that was the first time they had experienced a sitting Judge tweeting information and opinions about a case and an individual.
The second way that people became aware of the insulated manner of engaging social media was through The Waller County News, a closed and private Facebook group that included the Sheriff, among over 5,000 other members. It’s been reported that the communication that went on within the group seemed to very strongly support locally elected officials and discourage critique. Many who expressed critique reported being removed from the group by the administrators.
The result was a social media environment that was insulated from the outside world, and in which local officials utilized social media to increase the fear of the outside world.
This reality, thus, becomes very pertinent when the topic at hand is the death of Sandra Bland. On the one side of the scales of justice is the death of a woman whom local, insular social media has portrayed as
a disrespectful, drug-addicted, criminal who was estranged from her family and an out-of-towner to boot. On the other side, are the salaries, careers and futures of locals, along with the potential for a legal settlement that would cost the county financially. Without intervention from the Department of Justice, those who will decide whether any wrongdoing occurred to Ms. Bland will be those who have been immersed in this culture and will have to live with the repercussions or rewards of their decision.
Being less densely populated, a rural location provides residents with more limited options socially, politically and economically intensifying all of the factors above. Relationships bear a different value, a different weight when options are fewer. Without the support of those around you, life can be very hard and very lonely; making the avoidance of rifts a high priority. In addition, if you do not like who you have elected into office, you have limited options for who can replace them. Lastly, if word spreads that you are not a friend of the community, it is easier to create financial repercussions. In light of all this, intimidation bears a different weight than it does in a more urban setting. Not perhaps a greater weight, but simply a different weight.
Bearing all of this in mind, it should be clear why the people of Hempstead, Prairie View and Waller County merit our fervent support and prayers: most particularly, perhaps, those selected to serve on the Grand Jury.
Last night, for the first time, I looked at one of the articles that was written after you told me to “go back to the Church of Satan that you run.” At the time, I’ll be honest, I was aware that there was a good deal of media taking place around your comments to me; yet, I did not look at any of it. The reason was that I had more important things to do, to be frank. I was focused on staying alive and hydrated in scorching heat, and trying to maintain a peaceful and prayerful attitude, despite your threats that there would be “consequences” for those in vigil and despite the death threats I was receiving from people as far away as Alaska and as close as the farm up the road. I could not afford to be distracted, because I needed all of my focus to be on God in order to have the strength to continue.
When I looked at that old article from the Houston Press today, it actually caught me off guard. I think that at the time we all assumed that you either intended a slight towards a) the radically inclusive and loving congregation where I serve b) The Shout community of artist activists or c) that you were simply from an old-school mentality that found it difficult to acknowledge women as clergy.
What I saw instead last night shocked me. You actually intended to accuse me of working for the devil on that day in August. Despite the fact that the local superintendent of my church had come by the jail to sit with me and talk a couple weeks before. Despite the fact that I had sat in front of your jail for three weeks before that and your officers had marked my plates repeatedly and I felt certain you knew exactly who I was, exactly where I worked, and exactly where I lived. Despite the fact that just the week before I had marched beside Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church to honor Sandra Bland at Hope AME. Despite the fact that everyone else in Waller County seemed to know I was a Methodist pastor, leading to the organizing of the Concerned Methodists of Waller County to protest against my presence in vigil for Sandra Bland. Despite all of these factors, you still stated that you intended to accuse me of working for the devil?
From the Houston Press: “In a phone interview with the Houston Press, Sheriff Glenn Smith attempted to explain why he called a clergywoman a Satanist, set up barricades to deter protesters, and cut down a nearby tree where protesters liked to gather for shade. “My grandmother used to tell me, if you’re not doing godly things, then you must be working for the devil, because there is no in-between,” said Smith, who was suspended and fired from his post as chief of police in Hempstead [by the predominantly African American Hempstead City Council] in 2008 amid accusations of racism and police misconduct before being elected Waller County Sheriff later that year [by the predominantly white Waller County].”
You went on to say that you had seen Satanists wearing clergy collars like mine before… in Waller County? Despite the humorous letter the Church of Satan wrote, disavowing any connection with me yet offering their wholehearted support, it is clear that you intended your words to be a condemnation of myself, those who stand with Sandra, and those I love. It is clear that you were summoning the most vile condemnation you could muster, and there were no stronger words you could find than to say that I serve the devil. Beyond unprofessional and abusive, your words and actions were reckless and could have put myself and my colleagues in the path of harm.
Which brings us to the ironic part of this whole situation. The irony in your statement is that the thing that both summons me to this work and gives me the strength to carry it out is the love and calling of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Without the calling of Christ, I could not have endured 80 days at your front door. Without the peace of Christ, I could not have found the compassion to sit in front of your office and pray not only for the conviction and honesty, but also for the safety for those working inside. Without the perfect love that casts out fear, I could not have found the courage to stay there despite the fact that you very clearly intended to draw animosity and danger our way.
To be clear, I am 5’2”, 120 lbs, and the only form of defense I have ever carried is my Bible and my guitar. Yet, I frighten you.
This is why, sir, you make me sad, and I will pray for you. You make me sad because from your own words, you seem to have had a grandmother that loved you and talked to you about God and what it means to serve God; I am sad that you have not given the world the impression that those lessons sunk in. That is important to me, as a Christian minister, and as United Methodist clergy, because all who claim the name of Christ have a responsibility to one another and to the whole world that God created and loves. When we fail to live in a manner that inspires faith in others, we do a disservice to the cross of Jesus Christ. We mock him in his suffering, our crucified Lord, a legally innocent man taken into custody by members of his own faith community, just as Sandra Bland was.
My calling to stand with my sister in Christ, my fellow Methodist, Sandra Bland, is no work of the devil. My choice to continually say her name is no trick of the tongue. My persistence in demanding an answer to “What Happened To Sandra Bland?” is nothing more and nothing less than a conviction that whatever happened to her would not have happened to me; because as a white woman in a collar, I would never have had Officer Brian Encinia try to tear me from my car. That is a state of affairs that, as a Christian minister, I cannot be silent about, because it was my own Christian faith that helped to build a system where black bodies were not treated as sacred, cherished, and loved. I must be a part of dismantling what a distortion of my faith’s teachings put in place.
Know this, intimidation will not work. We will continue to ask: What Happened To Sandra Bland? We want the truth. There is no answer we are afraid of receiving; we stand with her whatever may come, for we already know the truth is that she should never have been in your jail to start. You can understand why, for me, the way you have spoken of and treated me makes it hard for me to believe that her treatment could possibly have been above reproach. You can also understand why it has been difficult to believe the official narrative when I heard you with my own ears say that Sandra had died by tying a noose and then sitting down on the toilet. Remember, you told that activist from Dallas that story and she recorded it? I think I heard three different versions from you that first week. It made it impossible for me to accept your official version once you all got together and got on the same page and decided what it would work to say happened.
You may not see me every day, but we have not gone anywhere; we have merely shifted our efforts to acknowledge the complexity of the justice system. Be assured that we will drop by from time to time to ensure you do not forget to #SayHerName #SandraBland
As for me, sir, I am still waiting on an apology from you. I heard a rumor that you apologized to a reporter for me. Yet, you have already made it abundantly clear that your grandmother was very involved in instructing you; so I am certain that your grandmother made it clear that apologies must be made to the person to whom offense has been given, and that they must be sincere. So I will continue to wait, and pray that God softens your heart. If that be not the will of God, hardened hearts have been known to work just as well to set God’s people free.
Your sister in Christ,
Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner
p.s. I will be lifting up prayers for your friends as well
"There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." (Leonard Cohen)