A viral hashtag once again exposed the deep distrust between African Americans and US police.
The hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody began after the mysterious death of Sandra Bland. Bland was pulled over by a Texas police officer for failing to signal before changing lanes, and cops detained her after, they claim, she assaulted an officer. Three days later, she was found dead in her jail cell.
Police say the black 28-year-old woman killed herself, but family, friends, and people on social media do not believe the story — in large part because Bland had just moved to Texas to start a job as a college outreach officer.
In most of the tweets, predominantly black Twitter users say that they would never kill themselves if they were detained by the police.
#IfIDieInPoliceCustody ask every question, and know that I did not end my own life. And protest in the spirit of the founding fathers.
— deray mckesson (@deray) July 17, 2015
#IfIDieInPoliceCustody question everything. Don't believe a word they say. Demand the truth by any means necessary.
— ShordeeDooWhop (@Nettaaaaaaaa) July 17, 2015
#IfIDieInPoliceCustody there's a great possibility that I wasn't even breaking the law or resisting. I was just black.
— Francesca Davis (@LipstickNLegos) July 16, 2015
That people even feel the need to make these kinds of advanced directives in case they're detained shows just how deep distrust in the police runs, particularly in minority communities. Since the deaths of black men like Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Eric Garner in New York City, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, racial disparities in police use of force and the criminal justice system in general have received heightened attention. And in some cases — such as the police shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina — the initial police account greatly conflicted with what video footage later proved happened, fostering even more distrust in the police.
These concerns aren't necessarily new in black communities, who have complained about mistreatment by police for decades. But over the past year, stories such as Gray's, Garner's, Brown's, Scott's, and now Bland's have elevated these issues to the forefront of conversation in the US, which is why a hashtag like #IfIDieinPoliceCustody can go so viral so quickly.