OPINION: The death of Sandra Bland and history's echoes

Sandra Bland was allegedly pulled over by Houston police for not indicating while changing lanes. Three days later, she was dead.

Watching how similar events unfold through time, I am often reminded of a quote: 'history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes', supposedly said by Mark Twain. As we see the same phenomena play out in an uncanny call and response across time, those words come to speak of how dark, unsettling experiences echo through history.

In his poignantly beautiful piece 'Farewell to America', The Guardian columnist Gary Younge writes:

"For the past couple of years the summers, like hurricanes, have had names. Not single names like Katrina or Floyd - but full names like Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown. Like hurricanes, their arrival was both predictable and predicted, and yet somehow, when they landed, the effect was still shocking. We do not yet know the name that will be attached to this particular season."

Certain deaths, for varied reasons as Younge identifies, become 'politically totemic'. They become important as they are emblems of an experience, held up as hyper-examples of the daily experience of life as a particular person.

Younge's hurricane analogy is exceptionally appropriate. With the certainty of seasons and in the subtle terror that runs in the undercurrent of the everyday, we wait for the new name that will emerge, that will trend on social media, and reignite familiar conversations about the same experience.

His sentiments are echoed by poet Danez Smith, who writes: 'later, up the block, Troy got shot / & that was Tuesday', remarking on both the predictability of black death, how it becomes the language of the everyday and the expected. Yet neither could have predicted that the name that finds itself becoming attached to this American summer would be a woman's.

As the #BlackWomenMatter and #SayHerName movements have identified, the web of police brutality, violence and death are not the sole preserve of black male bodies, even as they are the most affected by it.

Hanif Abdurraqib argues that "When black women vanish, they often simply vanish. When enough outlets tell you that your life is an exercise in rehearsing invisibility, when you become invisible, it just seems like you're performing the grand closing act."

Those movements demand that we also remember Rekia Boyd, Tanisha Anderson, and the many other women affected by this phenomenon. And to that list, we now add Sandra Bland.

There are numerous questions around how Sandra Bland a 28 year-old Chicago woman who was taking a road trip for a job interview at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, landed up dead in Waller County Jail.

In a video of the arrest, taken by a bystander, she can be heard saying: "You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can't even hear". Official reports claim that she was arrested after allegedly kicking a police officer and declare her death 'suicide by asphyxiation', saying that she used a plastic bag to kill herself.

But activists and those close to Bland, who argue that her claimed suicide was 'unfathomable', are aware of life lived waiting for human hurricanes. They know too well how these moments can uproot and impact life as we know it, leaving confusion, anger, pain and numbness in their wake. Their suspicion is rooting in knowing how these moments are supported and created by an environment that devalues particular bodies.

Her family is now seeking an independent autopsy and the FBI has joined the investigation. As more details are emerging, like the fact that she tried to post bail, and that sheriff linked to the case had been previously fired for racism, many find themselves asking the same question, repeatedly: "What happened to Sandra Bland?".

It is a question that many asked themselves during apartheid, related to the deaths of family members, friends and comrades in detention. Hearing about Bland's story, on the other side of the ocean, there were immutable echoes of literary icon Chris van Wyk's poem In Detention: a powerful statement on the ridiculous reasons for death in detention, given by the security police. It is worth quoting, in full:

He fell from the ninth floor

He hanged himself

He slipped on a piece of soap while washing

He hanged himself

He slipped on a piece of soap while washing

He fell from the ninth floor

He hanged himself while washing

He slipped from the ninth floor

He hung from the ninth floor

He slipped on the ninth floor while washing

He fell from a piece of soap while slipping

He hung from the ninth floor

He washed from the ninth floor while slipping

He hung from a piece of soap while washing.

In contemplating Sandra Bland's death, I find myself thinking how history rhymes, across borders and time, and how the chilling echoes of van Wyk's poem, created in a particular moment and time, find new resonances in Waller County, Texas.

Danielle Bowler holds a master's degree from Rhodes University and is a Mandela Rhodes scholar. She is currently an assistant researcher at Mistra and a member of Feminist Stokvel. She likes to think critically about the world around her, which often includes making complex political arguments about pop culture and Beyonce. Follow her on Twitter: @daniellebowler