President Obama’s historic visit to a U.S. prison in an effort to enact change within the criminal justice system does little to subdue people’s fears around interacting with law enforcement. People are afraid and are using social media as a way to push back at the narrative that is propagated daily in the news. People are becoming so afraid of the police that they have taken to social media to write their own epitaphs using the hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody.
Social media has been able to give a voice to the voiceless, sparking trends such as the controversial #HandsUpDontShoot and the mainstay #BlackLivesMatter. Recently, a new narrative has emerged, highlighting the rise in black female victims of violence, crowned with the hashtag #SayHerName.
The recent deaths of Kindra Chapman and Sandra Bland, who both died in police custody, have spawned more than #SayHerName. It has given birth to #IfIDieInPoliceCustody, an expression of exasperation and dread.
Eighteen-year-old Kindra Chapman was arrested and charged with robbery. By night fall, Kindra Chapman was found dead in her jail cell. The cause of death was ruled a suicide. The Root reports Chapman was found unresponsive within two hours of her detention.
Twenty-eight-year-old Sandra Bland was pulled over by police for a moving violation. The police interaction escalated, leading to Bland being arrested for assaulting a public servant. Sandra Bland was later found dead in her jail cell. The cause of death was ruled a suicide. The F.B.I, according to the New York Times, is investigating the police’s account of Sandra Bland’s death.
#IfIDieInPoliceCustody speaks to the fact that not only are the images of dead, black male bodies becoming a staple in daily media messaging but there are dead, black female bodies lying alongside of them. #IfIDieInPoliceCustody shines a light on people’s palpable fear of police.
#IfIDieInPoliceCustody is becoming the mantra of a new movement finding its form in the way of protests and Town Hall meetings. #IfIDieInPoliceCustody is a means of finding solutions to a growing problem between law enforcement and black communities they serve.
#IfIDieInPoliceCustody has gained momentum during the week, being used to express a variety of sentiments. Most people used #IfIDieInPoliceCustody to tell people that they would never commit suicide, while others used #IfIDieInPoliceCustody in an effort to hold law enforcement accountable.
On Instagram, Saidah Murphy used #IfIDieInPoliceCustody to tell her mother in advance to “be strong” and “don’t stop fighting.”
On Twitter, Andrew Brennan used #IfIDieInPoliceCustody to reinforce the destructive nature of over-consumption of images of dead black bodies. For some, it serves as a numbing, desensitizing effect. For others, it reinforces trauma.
#IfIDieInPoliceCustody Don't spread photos of my body on social media. Constantly consuming images of violence on black bodies is traumatic.— Andrew Brennen (@aebrennen) July 17, 2015
Controversial activist Deray McKesson used #IfIDieInPoliceCustody to reinforce the power of protests.
#IfIDieInPoliceCustody ask every question, and know that I did not end my own life. And protest in the spirit of the founding fathers.— deray mckesson (@deray) July 17, 2015
Stephen Crockett, Jr. used #IfIDieInPoliceCustody as future evidence.
Empowerment Temple’s pastor, Jamal Bryant used #IfIDieInPoliceCustody as a future charge for murder.
If I die in police custody please know that I didn't commit suicide....it would be murder just like #SandraBland— jamalbryant (@jamalhbryant) July 17, 2015
Heauxsap’s Fables used #IfIDieInPoliceCustody as an investigation tool.
If I die in police custody, tell my family to request that they turn over my phone. If there is no recording of the encounter, they deleted— Heauxsap's Fables (@theelectwoman08) July 16, 2015
Lateef Ajimotokan used #IfIDieInPoliceCustody to echo what the entire social media trend embodies – a call for police accountability.
I affirm that if I die in police custody, it will not be by suicide. #IfIDieInPoliceCustody please hold local law enforcement accountable.— Lateef Ajimotokan (@teefy) July 18, 2015
[Photo by Scott Olsen/Getty Images]