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Activist, scholar and journalist Rosa Clemente says Sandra Bland’s death could be a COINTELPRO-like targeted assassination of Black activists

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. A grand jury in Texas this week declined to hand down any indictments at all in the arrest and death in custody of Black Lives Matter activist Sandra Bland. Bland was pulled over July 10 in Prairie View, Texas, for failure to signal and was found dead in her cell a few days later. The disputed claim by authorities is that Bland hung herself in her cell, but many have pointed to this being inconsistent with her general happiness around her activism and the start of a new job. Joining us from Albany, New York to discuss this and more is Rosa Clemente. Rosa is a veteran activist, scholar, and former vice presidential nominee for the Green Party, and we welcome her back now to the Real News. Welcome back, Rosa. ROSA CLEMENTE: Thank you for having me. BALL: So what do you make of this grand jury decision, and how, if at all, do you see this fitting in with other current struggles over police violence, treatment in custody, or the relationship to the broader Black Lives Matter struggle, of which Sandra was a part? CLEMENTE: Well, I mean, it doesn’t surprise me. You know, I feel I’ve been in this work, doing this work for a very long time. And indictments and consequential convictions are very hard. I mean, we just had the mistrial in the first officer who’s going to trial over the death of Freddie Gray. So I don’t believe in any way, and I hope that this is very clear to a new younger generation of organizers and activists, I think they’re pretty clear that the system in any way will remedy itself. I also view–I believe we have to talk about Sandra Bland very differently. She was murdered by the state, right, we don’t see that murder happening on camera. I do not in any way believe she committed suicide. And you know, I, I said when she was first murdered, I believe it was a targeted political stop, and a potential political assassination. And I know a lot of folks may disagree with that. It’s not hyperbole to me. As a historian, we’ve seen this time and time again in movements. We are clear, we know from many reports, including one recent one from the Intercept that Black Lives Matter organizers, activists, and those who just support it are being spied on currently. So I think we have to view this in a very different way than we’ve looked at other police murders in the past. BALL: To anyone who might think that you were tending towards hyperbole there, they might want to revisit on YouTube or other sources the full video of her stop and arrest. I reviewed it just before we did this segment. And she can be heard clearly and strongly advocating her rights. And it was–it can also, I think, be heard very clearly that the police officer was, was more than frustrated and quick to become hostile with her. Throwing her to the ground, rough with her, pulling her out of the car, threatening to tase her and other forms of violence. You can hear her screaming, and so on. So again, it would be hard to, to just dismiss this as, as either a targeted arrest, or something of the like. Especially given the context you just described, with the Intercept report, and going back even further, the counterintelligence struggle, of which I know you’re very familiar. CLEMENTE: Yeah, and there’s so many other things to this too, right. It’s down south. It’s Texas. She’s already–she’s a Black Lives Matter activist who’s putting videos up. There are people in my circle that are organizers that got messages of support from her over their own struggles and work within the Black Lives Matter movement. You know, so I, I really want folks to understand that we have to look at this case particularly, and in a case that we’ve seen, again, that–not that history completely repeats itself. But obviously we are being targeted because of work around Black Lives Matter. This could be the first assassination or political targeting that we’ve seen. And I, I think some folks may not be ready for that. But we have to be very clear on that. BALL: There’s also the particular experience of black women, or women of the African diaspora, brown women, if you will, in this country and elsewhere, that I think should deserve some specific attention as well. Could you talk a little bit about that particular context, especially given that the Black Lives Matter movement itself was started by three black women of the African diaspora here in the United States? CLEMENTE: Yes. So you know, we just had this officer [Holowitz] in Oklahoma found guilty, and he had committed at least over 19 sexual assaults or rapes, or both, against black women. Particularly poor black women, including a 67-year-old grandmother. And most people are hearing about this case just now because of the conviction that just happened last week. But let me tell you something. I wouldn’t be surprised if on the way, from the moment those police touched her all the way into the car ride, all the way into that cell, could we, do we know that Sandra Bland wasn’t sexually assaulted? Do we know that she wasn’t grabbed? You know, I, when I was arrested last year in the protests during the, we call ourselves the BLM seven out in LA, because we’re going to trial in January over our civil disobedience activities that we did. There was a moment where I said to the sergeant, I said, can you please tell your officer, who was a woman, to stop feeling me up while she’s trying to arrest me? And I’ve been arrested before, and that was the first time I ever felt a violation of my body in a different way, not just only the violation of an arrest. So how do we know that didn’t happen? We don’t know what happened in that jail cell. We don’t know how much she was asserting her rights, to the point where they just wanted her to be quiet. Anything could have happened. And if her parents and everyone around her is saying no, there’s no way, there was no suicidal tendencies, or even behavioral things that we picked up on, I’m supposed to believe that. No, I’m not going to believe anything the state says [that day]. BALL: In fact, you can hear on that tape a woman officer as well, joining in the response, saying that Sandra brought this arrest and the violence– CLEMENTE: On herself. BALL: –along with it on herself, particularly for asserting her rights, and raising questions about the arrest. So you raise a very important point there, as well. We will definitely look to stay in touch with you as you and your colleagues go to trial in January. CLEMENTE: Can I just add one thing before we–. BALL: Please, yes, go ahead. CLEMENTE: You know, the prosecutor, the one–the person that put the grand, went to the grand jury for this indictment, is a young African-American man, right. And I think it speaks to how we have to look at systemically how people that look like us can partake in this system that seeks us no redress. But one of the things that just came out 30 minutes ago was that he said that Sandra Bland was suicidal to the grand jury, and he said it over five times. So if the district attorney that should be able to bring down an indictment, and indictments are brought down all the time, is already going to the grand jury saying, well, she had suicidal tendencies, we have to look at suicide as a possible cause. What is that grand jury most likely going to look at? They don’t believe black women, they don’t believe black people. And then the prosecutor himself is putting out the theory out there already that circumvents what we probably know really happened to Sandra Bland, that she was murdered by the state. BALL: Rosa Clemente, thank you again for joining us here at the Real News Network. CLEMENTE: Thank you for having me again. BALL: And thanks to all of you for joining us as well. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore saying, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.


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Rosa Clemente is the president and founder of Know Thy Self Productions, which has produced four major community activism tours and consults on issues such as Hip-Hop activism, media justice, voter engagement among youth of color, third party politics, intercultural relations between Black and Latinx, immigrants’ rights as an extension of human rights, and universal healthcare. She is also the co-founder and coordinator of the first ever National Hip-Hop Political Convention and co-founder of R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop Coalition, a Hip-Hop generation based media justice organization. She is currently a doctoral student in the W.E.B. Dubois department of UMASS-Amherst.