Were the three mysterious jail cell deaths of people of color within a matter of hours across southern states this month actually lynches? That question is sparking national public outrage among human rights defenders and prompting independent investigations. In each case, family members and friends disbelieve official police reports. Two of the deceased, African American Sandra Bland and Choctaw American Indian Rexdale W. Henry, were noted human rights activists, while the other was 18-year-old African American Kendra Darnell Chapman – each “found dead” within 48 hours in different southern states.
Within two days, Ms. Black and Ms. Chapman mysteriously committed suicide by hangings and Mr. Henry mysteriously died with broken bones soon after jailed. Families, loved ones and rights advocates across the country are demanding answers from officials and are galvanizing for what has been called a national “racism emergency” that is to impact 2016 presidential candidates throughout campaigns.
“At Netroots Nation, #BlackLivesMatter leaders called on all of us to use our power to respond to the current state of emergency,” stated Charles Chamberlain, Democracy for America’s executive director in a statement released by TIMES over the weekend. “Democracy for America is ready to heed that call to action and make sure it has real electoral consequences in 2016 and beyond.”
The emergency escalated again this weekend when Cleveland police assaulted Black Lives Matter members for rallying for civil and human rights of people of color.
“At a time when the nation is focused on the terrible circumstances of the brutal death of Sandra Bland, it is critical to expose the many ways in which Black Americans, Native Americans and other minorities are being arrested for minor charges and end up dead in jail cells,” stated Syracuse University law professor Janis McDonald of the school’s Cold Case Justice Initiative McDonald.
On July 13, Sandra Bland allegedly committed suicide 72 hours after police in Texas happened to be driving near her, saw she failed to use her turn signal, stopped, assaulted and jailed her, according to a now famous video. Ms. Bland was a well known activist. Her death is now investigated as a murder.
[Read: Police Cover-Up: Chilling Final Words Mysteriously Slain Targeted Woman Screamed to Brutal Texas Cop after Ripped from Car, Slammed to Ground]
Among the Bland death mystery questions is did police tamper with video evidence? The video that police released is missing minutes – three whole minutes. Soon after the dashboard camera video was released, the public began scrutinizing a moment in the video when a white car driving along suddenly disappeared. Later, a tow truck driver is seen walking off camera, only to reappear from inside his truck. Officials claimed that video segments were affected during the original upload. The following day, the Texas Department of Public Safety re-released the footage — three minutes shorter than the original.
The next day, on July 14, Rexdale W. Henry, a 53-year-old American Indian activist was found dead in Neshoba County Jail in Philadelphia, Miss. Detention officers say they found Henry’s body around 10 a.m. Reports and logs reveal that he was seen alive and fine only half an hour before that, according to WTOK. The state crime lab in Jackson conducted an autopsy and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case. What is known thus far is that Mr. Henry suffered two broken ribs before his “mysterious” death.
On July 14, the same day Mr. Henry was found dead — the day after Ms. Bland’s death and the day African American Kendra Chapman, 18, reported suicide in her jail cell soon after arrested for an alleged minor offense. Booked just before 6:30 p.m. Ms. Chapman was “found unresponsive” in her cell at 7:50 p.m. Like Ms. Bland, authorities were quick to announce Chapman’s death by suicide hanging.
These three well-loved individuals join a long list of now-familiar names of black people’s deaths over the past year that have ignited a national movement for change: Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Walter Scott. Until recently, that list of much-repeated names included few women. Two weeks ago marked the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of police officers, while next month is the anniversary of Mike Brown’s.
Racism-related violence amid today’s martial law, codified in 2012 with the NDAA, has prompted the nation’s one-million-member, progressive, grassroots network Democracy for America to change its presidential candidate endorsement proposals. The nation’s largest network says it will now seek to support candidates according to how they address racism, the new central criteria for DFA’s endorsements, according to an advance copy of the announcement obtained by TIME.
American are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist of any other kind.