It’s not clear whether Sandra Bland committed suicide or was murdered. Either way, the police placed incredible strain on her. If she did commit suicide, can the police department be held liable for manslaughter? Financial damages would be awarded in a civil trial, certainly, but this was not mere criminal neglect. This appears to have been specifically threatening and abusive behavior designed to get Sandra Bland arrested without cause (see the video and summary.) I imagine similar tactics of intimidation were employed during her three days (!) in jail.
For trauma studies, this calls for a more thorough understanding of the relationship between social isolation and intimidation on the mental health of victims (i.e. before they have survived and “outlived” the ordeal). Harry Harlow’s experiments with chimpanzees indicate the stark effects of such deprivation, but such experiments raise serious questions of ethics and applicability.
Yet, the information we have thus far leads me to believe there could be a phenomenon we might call affective homocide, or emotional manslaughter.
This is the kind of thing we saw with Abu Ghraib (Philip Gourevitch) and perhaps Guantanamo. The military’s SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) has found significant emotional and physical impact from forced imprisonment, even under controlled conditions where adequate food is provided. Clearly, the emotional affects the physical at a deep and poorly-understood level. Nonetheless, Human societies have a long history of exploiting these “emotion hacks” to thoroughly dehumanize victims (see Foucault’s Crime and Punishment). And as the Stanford Prison Experiment showed, even the lead researcher Philip Zimbardo became caught-up in the need to confine his test subjects, and it was only outside visitors who recognized the ultimate collapse of detached research perspective.