On July 10, 2015, both of them were still alive.
That was the day Sandra Bland was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas, for allegedly failing to use a turn signal. The officer, after writing her a ticket, asked that Bland put out her cigarette. Bland, within her rights, refused.
The conflict escalated. “I will light you up,” the officer said, threatening her with a Taser.
“You’re about to break my wrist.”
“You just slammed me.”
“You just knocked my head on the ground.”
Five-hundred miles away, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, 55-year-old Choctaw activist Rexdale Henry had just spent his first night in jail. He was arrested on July 9 for failure to pay a fine, the Jackson Free Press reports.
Four days later, on July 13, Sandra Bland was allegedly found hanging from a noose made from a plastic bag.
The day after that, Rexdale Henry was found dead in his cell. His family is seeking a private autopsy and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into his death.
Like Bland, Henry was an activist for his community. He coached stickball and, according to the Jackson Free Press, was a candidate for the Choctaw Tribal Council.
And, like Bland, Henry’s timeline looks like this: Pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. Arrested and put in a cell. Found dead.
It may not be spoken of very often in the media, but Native Americans are the racial group most likely to be killed by police.
As outrage continues to mount on social media in the wake of Sandra Bland’s tragic death, Natives are left struggling with a question that has left them in turns hopeful and frustrated since the power of #BlackLivesMatter made itself known: How do we make ourselves heard?
The answer is the tireless efforts from Native American activists and steadily growing solidarity from Black Lives Matter activists, whose clout on social media is much needed considering the hindrances facing Natives living on reservations.
According to a 2014 Native Public Media and New America Foundation analysis, the broadband penetration rate across 566 federally recognized tribes is at less than a paltry 10%.
In CNN Money’s article, where the analysis appears, Native American students were reported as having to drive to neighboring cities just to sit in the McDonald’s parking lot and connect to the Internet. It’s students, of course, that provide the lifeblood to social movements.
And so it is up to us to amplify the voices of Native American activists who are struggling to be heard.
It is up to us to remember Rexdale Henry. To remember Christina Tahhahwah. To remember Paul Castaway.
We must remember them. We must speak on them. We must not let them fade into silence.
Awareness is only the first step on the path to justice. It’s a step the black community and the Native American community are fighting tooth and nail to achieve.
But if the deaths of Sandra Bland and Rexdale Henry happening in such close succession prove anything, it’s that systemic racism is snuffing out precious life in both communities – and that the path must be walked together.