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Mourners gather at the grave site of Sandra Bland at Mt. Glenwood Memorial Gardens West cemetery, on July 25, 2015 in Willow Springs, Illinois. Bland's death roused suspicion nationwide after the 28-year-old was found hanging from a plastic bag three days after she was pulled over by a Texas State Trooper for a traffic violation. (Photo: Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images/AFP)

Vowing to #SayHerName and More, Hundreds Gather to Honor Life and Death of Sandra Bland

After being arrested in Texas following routine traffic stop earlier this month, many questions remain about untimely death of woman who has further galvanized national movement

Jon Queally

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Sandra Bland on Saturday at the DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle, Illinois outside of Chicago to commemorate the woman whose untimely death in Texas jail cell on July 13 has further galvanized a national call demanding something be done about the extreme levels of police violence and the pervasive mistreatment of black women, men, and other minorities across the country.

Though an official autopsy report released Friday found that the available evidence suggests Bland hung herself inside her jail cell three days after being arrested following a confrontation with an officer who pulled her over for failing to signal, many of her family and friends—as well as members of the larger public—have questioned those findings and are demanding further investigation.

As the Chicago Tribune reported:

The majority of people attending Bland's funeral Saturday had never met her. Yet mothers stood in line outside the Lisle church for nearly an hour under the unforgiving sun, a thick layer of sweat forming on their foreheads and those of the crying infants they held in their arms. Teenagers held handwritten signs with photos of Bland they found on Facebook; some young men had made T-shirts that read “#SandySpeaks.”

Those attending Sandra Bland's funeral were joined by their fierce belief that, whatever the circumstance, the 28-year-old Naperville woman did not deserve to die.

Among those attending the funeral was local resident Hank Brown, who told the Tribune, "I don't know Sandra, and I don't know what happened. But I do know she didn't have to die. There's an epidemic of police terror in this country, and people need to stand up."

When it was time for Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, to speak at her daughter's funeral, she reportedly addressed those gathered without shedding tears, but with a steady voice as she called for justice.

"The fact is," she said, "I’m the mom, and I still don’t know what happened to my baby... I want to know what happened to my baby. I’m gonna find out what happened to my baby." Referencing her daughter's role as an advocate for racial justice and her personal musings on the subject on social media under #SandySpeaks, her mother continued by saying, "My baby has spoken. She’s still speaking and no, she didn’t kill herself."

According to the New York Times:

Ms. Reed-Veal spoke at length, telling mourners about a recent road trip she had taken with her daughter. On their way to visit relatives in Tennessee, Ms. Reed-Veal said, Ms. Bland told her she had found a calling and planned to pursue it by returning to Texas, where she had attended college.

“Her purpose was to stop all injustice against blacks in the South,” Ms. Reed-Veal said at the funeral.

Meanwhile, as the Movement for Black Lives Convening conference was being held in Cleveland over the weekend, where black activists and community organizers from around the country converged to assess and strategize over the national effort to address racial injustice, it was clear that Sandra Bland's name—just like Ferguson's Michael Brown, Staten Island's Eric Garner, and Cleveland's Tamir Rice—has become a new touchstone, especially among black women, for the growing drive to politicize and affect change around issues of police violence, mass incarceration, and social inequities that pervade modern society.

As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:

The conference is happening amid an escalating national discussion about law enforcement's interaction in black communities. Those issues are illustrated through several high-profile incidents that began in the summer of 2014 with the shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer and continue through this month when Sandra Bland was found dead in a Texas jail cell where she was being held after a routine traffic stop.

The conference is being held in Cleveland, a city where two police officers remain under investigation in the Nov. 22, 2014 shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The Cleveland police department is now operating under a federal reform agreement that came after the U.S. Justice Department's two-year-long probe of the department's use-of-force practices and policies.

Local organizer Malaya Davis is a Cleveland native and a member of the Ohio Students Association. She said that while other cities were considered to hold the convening, Cleveland stood out because of Rice's death and the death of 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson. Anderson, who suffered from mental illness, died after she was placed in a retrain hold by an officer in the street outside her family's home. 

Tamir's and Anderson's deaths occurred within one week of each other.

"Cleveland looks just like Ferguson, looks just like Baltimore, looks just like all of these places that have high oppression," Davis said. "We wanted to highlight that and bring some attention to what's going on in this city and the state of Ohio as well."

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