Tonight, HBO’s Documentary “Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland” Sounds Call to Raise the Voices of #SayHerName the Movement
Tonight Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland will premiere on HBO. The documentary film memorializes the 28-year-old Black woman who was found dead of an alleged suicide in a Texas jail cell in July 2015, three days after being arrested on a traffic violation. Bland's case became a flashpoint in the movement for Black lives. Protesters who filled the streets in her name recognized her treatment at the hands of police and its tragic outcome as another instance of racially biased law enforcement. The film, which features Bland's own voice in a series of clips from her "Sandra Says" video blog, reminds us just what an intelligent, loved and loving woman was lost. Davis and Heilbroner have achieved a moving exploration of Bland's story. Just as importantly, the narrative also opens the door for a fuller exploration of the actual, living movement that the phrase “Say Her Name” represents. The African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and the Columbia Law School Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISPS) launched the Say Her Name campaign in December 2014 to call attention to police violence against Black women, girls and femmes. Say Her Name demands that their stories be integrated into calls for justice, policy responses to police violence, and media representations of police brutality. “Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice--they’re household names now, but people had no idea whatsoever that Black women and girls were also killed by the police,” says AAPF Executive Director Kimberlé Crenshaw. “We have to exercise agency, we have to actually look for the stories of Black women and girls. Once we see them, we cannot unsee them. If you say the name, you’re prompted to learn the story, and if you know the story, then you have a broader sense of all the ways Black bodies are made vulnerable to police violence.” In May 2015, AAPF hosted a Say Her Name vigil in New York City, bringing together, for the first time, family members of the Black women killed by police from across the country. The family members of Alberta Spruill, Rekia Boyd, Shantel Davis, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore, Kyam Livingston, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, and Tanisha Anderson were present and supported by hundreds of attendees, activists, and stakeholders. At the same time, AAPF and CISPS released a report, "Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women," which included, along with documentary backing of the phenomenon, recommendations to mobilize various communities to advocate for racial justice. Since its inception, the Say Her Name campaign has expanded and increased its focus on direct advocacy. Central in this effort is the annual “Say Her Name Mothers Weekend,” which brings together mothers and other family members who have lost daughters and sisters to police violence. The gathering empowers a growing network and community of support, and also provides an opportunity to learn more about the specific needs of the family members of Black women who are victims of state violence. Davis and Heilbroner emphasize that they want the film to serve as a catalyst for action. We can realize that goal by remembering that Bland was not alone in being a Black woman targeted and harmed by law enforcement and that the outpouring of grief was a collective act of resistance. In that vein, the Say Her Name campaign moves beyond an individual approach to this injustice and along with partners such as the Black Youth Project, scholar-activists such as Andrea Ritchie, and countless grassroots activists across the country, seeks to turn the anger and sadness generated by stories like Sandra Bland's into targeted action to demand accountability and change. “Every case out there deserves to be known,” says Davis. “Because of Sandy’s videos and the incredible access to her, and her incredible family who had the courage to do this film, Sandy can help speak for people whose names we’ll never hear.” The Say Her Name movement recovers and amplifies the stories of exactly those women, girls and femmes that might otherwise languish in obscurity, and to elevate the work of family members like Fran Garrett, mother of Michelle Cusseaux, and Maria Moore, sister of Kayla Moore, who continue to push for justice. This sorority of sorrow forged by unimaginable grief is committed to telling the stories of their daughters and sisters with the commitment to ensuring justice for all victims of unjustified deadly force. "Say Her Name" is a movement -- and one that everyone can learn more about and join. As the Say Her Name campaign approaches its four-year anniversary on December 14th, we urge everyone who is moved by Bland’s story---and by the stories of Meagan Hockaday, Michelle Cusseaux, India Beatty, Tanisha Anderson, India Kager, Shelly Frey, Korryn Gaines and so many more---to join our efforts to raise awareness and demand accountability for all of them.
As Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland opens into a wider conversation illuminating the ways in which state violence affects Black women, we invite you tonight and in the coming days to elevate Say Her Name as we approach the campaign’s four-year anniversary. AAPF will use social media to lift up the women who are a part of Say Her Name, tweeting stories the world should know about-- those of the women whose fates are inextricably linked with Sandra Bland’s. We ask you to participate in our Say Her Name Day of Remembrance on December 14 by tweeting pictures of the fallen, tagging their names, standing up to be counted with Say Her Name wear or signs, and sharing our Say Her Name videos to your networks. Please also look for release of our next Say Her Name video this week, and a 4th-year anniversary update to our Say Her Name report. We hope that audiences moved by the reality of what happened to Sandra Bland and so many other Black women, girls, and femmes, embrace a comprehensive commitment to say all of their names, and to envision the demands of their loved ones as the lodestars in our fight for intersectional justice.