Sandra Bland Funeral: She Has Joined ‘A List of Martyrs’, Says Pastor
Hundreds of mourners attend the service for the Chicago-area woman who died in a Texas jail in circumstances many find suspicious after a traffic stop
By The Guardian
By The Guardian
The mood was somber at DuPage AME church in Lisle, IL, on July 25, as family, friends and strangers dressed in a mixture of stark white outfits and T-shirts bearing the words #SandySpeaks waited for the wake and funeral of Sandra Bland, the Chicago-area woman who was found dead in a Texas jail cell earlier this month.
“Today we are gathered here to celebrate the life of this beautiful young lady who joins a list of martyrs,” Pastor James Miller said, using a microphone.
Mourners listened inside the chapel and outside, where a growing crowd stood in the summer heat. Bland, who lived approximately 10 miles west of Lisle, was dressed in white too, in an open casket below now famous photos of her life.
Many continue to find the circumstances of her death suspicious, even after an autopsy report released by the first assistant district attorney of Waller County, Texas, found nothing to indicate a homicide.
Bland was in the Waller County jail for three days, charged with assaulting a public servant, after a traffic stop conducted by Texas state trooper Brian Encinia turned violent.
On Saturday, Bland’s family hugged mourners and cried. The line continued to grow.
“People please file by quickly – we just don’t have the time any more,” the pastor said. “[We must] abide by a tradition in this country and that is that weddings are always late, but funerals are on time.”
To manage the crowd, deacons were asked to direct mourners to a basement overflow space, since the 500-person-capacity chapel floor was full.
The choir began joyously singing the gospel song The Lord is Blessing Me, and the church erupted in praise. Many mourners, including members of Bland’s family, rose to their feet. Once the song came to an end, Miller invited the family to privately visit her body while he told mourners that this was an hour of victory, not defeat.
Miller had a message for the Waller County police. “You can disrespect a strong black woman if you want to,” he said, “but you’re gonna pay for that.”
Miller also asked media present to stop showing pictures of Bland with “marks” on her body, and to start respecting her in death.
The service was filled with words from church leaders, family, sorority sisters and elected officials – all of whom focused on the celebration of the “young, vibrant activist” they had loved.“Her commitment to civil responsibility was unrivalled,” said Tiffany Hightower, a Sigma Gamma Rho sorority sister. Hightower went on to say Bland had been committed in working to “shift the paradigm [on how] African Americans were viewed” in the US.
The Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who was joined by congressman Bill Foster, referred to Bland’s “highly questionable traffic violation” and said: “There were many people changing lanes in traffic and many not using their signal. And their lives continue.”
The mourners jumped to their feet in applause.
The two elected officials announced that they had signed a letter to the US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, calling for a full and unbiased investigation into Bland’s death, which they said revolved around similar questions to those asked about race relations 50 years ago.
However, while the church’s pastor agreed with the elected officials, he said he did not see the case as racially driven.
“What we’ve happened upon is not a racial issue. That’s a lie of the enemy,” Miller said. “It is a spiritual issue between some folks and God.”
Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother, reflected on finding out her daughter had died.
“When you get a call like that, I wasn’t on my knees praying,” she said, “I was crying, hollering and mad.”
Veal, who spoke at length about the media attention around her daughter’s death, told the congregation not to march on the home of the officer involved. She did ask for everyone to continue using social media to raise awareness. But, she said: “We’re going to do this right.”
Veal expressed her faith in the independent autopsy that is currently being conducted, which she said she hoped would show her daughter did not kill herself.
“If the momma ain’t going crazy then y’all better sit down,” she said.
Veal’s words marked the end of the service. As the mourners left the church – all heading to the burial, miles away – a thick line of press photographers took pictures. Activists handed out flyers.
Most pushed past, without breaking their stride. [/half][/row]