The Soul of Black Folk

Zaneta J Smith
May 8 · 3 min read

About four years ago, a friend of mine moved from Los Angeles to New York for better opportunity. She had just earned her phD and planned a road trip (by herself) so she could have her car in the Big Apple. Everyone was scared for her. Multiple people in her friend and family group demanded that she call and text whenever she hit a rest stop. We were praying for her safety as she traveled from state to state to start the beginning of her career.

Our concerns came from watching too many black people be pulled over by cops. Most recent had been Sandra Bland. On her way to a job interview, pulled over by law enforcement, did everything right, then later died in custody.

“Be careful,” I said to my friend.

“You do realize what just happened to Sandra Bland?” I stated.

“Do you know what to do if you get pulled over?” I asked.

I feel like these are conversations Black folks have been sharing with each other since we were forced to come to the United States; the process of discussing ways to travel around enforcers of the law to protect one’s body. Seems unfair to continue having these conversations.

An guidebook for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era

In Spring 2018, California Policy and Research Initiative (CalPRI) released a poll suggesting that 75% of Black California voters noted “eliminating racial profiling” as an extremely high policy priority.

Sandra Bland was a 28-year old Black woman who knew her rights and put them into play as soon as she was stopped by the officer. In the newly released video we hear that he opened her door, pointed a stun gun at her, and threatened to “light her up.” Some would argue that she appeared as an angry black woman. I noticed she didn’t seem angry at all. Frustrated? Yes. Absolutely sure she had a case to bring to court? Yes. Confident that the officer needed more accountability? Yes, hence her videotaping the incident.

CalPRI’s poll also suggested that 74% of Black California voters viewed “law enforcement accountability” as an extremely high policy priority.

That deep exhale before the camera shut off may have signaled Sandra Bland’s defeat and her entering into survival mode. The officer was angry and clearly becoming angrier as Bland taped him and engaged in a verbal exchange. She gave in not knowing what would come next. Thanks to a bystander, we know she was pinned to the ground. Most unfortunately, we remember how this incident ended. Another black woman dead in police custody.

In the words of Kanye West, “[we] basically know now, we get racially profiled ‘cuffed up and hosed down, pimped up and ho’d down.”

For the record, I signal 100% of the time due to the Sandra Bland incident. She was my age. We both attended black colleges. We graduated from college in the same year. She seemed to have a loving family and a love for her community.

For about a year after the incident, I thought of her every time I signaled. Then the thoughts waned as they often do when we forget and return to normal routines. All of her was brought to the forefront of my mind with the release of her cell phone footage. I am reminded of the bystander’s footage showing the State Trooper with his knee in her back, she screaming that she can’t feel her arm, and her crying out after her head was slammed to the ground. Her soul cried out with the release of this footage and thus, called the souls of others who were racially profiled, punished for knowing their rights, and apprehended because their voices were loud; their skin black.

Zaneta Smith coordinates operations of an African American civic engagement and public opinion research organization, the California Policy & Research Initiative.

Zaneta J Smith

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Coordinates operations of an African American civic engagement & public opinion research organization, the California Policy & Research Initiative.