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Sandra Bland and Ableism

Posted on July 23, 2015 in Courage & Activism Depression Stigma Suicide Violence

square913The current controversy over Sandra Bland has me bothered on several fronts. First, of course, is the police video and the inane pretext for the traffic stop. Sandra Bland was well within her rights. I do not doubt that she was beaten.

Second, though, is the willingness of some activists to grab on the assassination theory. Not that I don’t think this is possible — police being police sometimes pull this kind of stunt — but I am disturbed about the implications beyond this — namely that Sandra Bland just couldn’t have been mentally ill.

Sandra Bland did suffer from Post Partum Depression after losing a baby. Her family denies that it affected her much, but outsiders often fail to gauge the depth of suffering that those of us struggling with mental illness endure. The autopsy showed that she had been cutting herself — a not uncommon self-medication for those living with depression. Friends may be right that she had been happy after getting that job, but I know from personal experience with depression that you can swing catastrophically out of a good mood into a sour one in a matter of days, hours, or even minutes. She got hit with some crushing news: she had been charged with assault and she was in the belly of the beast, a system that routinely chews up those unfortunate enough to be caught inside of it. Her life was effectively ruined. Goodbye job.

Lots of people — of all races — can tell you how devastating that is.

When you deny this possibility, you are engaging in ableism — the notion that the disabled are unfit to perform work or make intelligent contributions to the community.

Third, the assassination theory, in the mouths of some activists, seems to suggest that if she was “merely” driven to suicide by the cops, that wouldn’t have been as bad. To hell it isn’t! Plenty of people living with mental illness can tell you about how the police roughed them up. It is time that we start paying attention to this problem.

Denying the possibility of assassination seems to be a ploy to raise Sandra Bland up. I say that as a human being, she doesn’t need this sanctification. No one — activist or otherwise — should go through what she went through. No one should pretend that just because her friends could not see it, her mental illness was nonexistent.

We who live with mental illness are also human beings. We live in this world and we contribute this world. And by denying our abilities, the world denies our worth. Sandra Bland is a hero to me for her functionality in the face of PPD. She is a martyr for the way she was abused.

Black lives with mental illness matter, too.

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