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Sarah Lee Circle Bear Dies In Police Custody After Pleading For Help

11774724_1645274465751060_557425220_nOver the past several days, mainstream news coverage of police brutality against people of color has focused considerably on the premature deaths of Black women.

[RELATED ARTICLE: Sandra Bland Gets New Job In Texas, Ends Up Dead In Police Custody]

Thanks to social media, #BlackLivesMatter, #M4BL, and #SayHerName, as well as hashtags created using the names of the victims, the deaths of Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, and Ralkina Jones, all killed while in police custody, all concluded as “suicides”, has gripped the attention of the nation and world.

[RELATED ARTICLE: Ralkina Jones Found Dead in Cleveland Jail]

However, just as the murder and names of Black women from police violence should never be lost in the sea of coverage on police and Black men, so too, must we remember to include the lives of Native and Hispanic female victims, as we continue to put pressure on mainstream news media to say the names of women of color.

One such name is Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a 24 year old Lakota woman, of Clairmont, South Dakota. On July 6, the young Native woman was found dead in a holding cell in Brown County Jail.

According to one news outlet, Circle Bear, who had been imprisoned over a “bond violation”, appealed to the jail staff for help, but was ignored.

“Jail staff allegedly responded by dismissing her cries for help, telling her to ‘knock it off,’ and ‘quit faking’ ” Indian Country’s Sarah Sunshine Manning reports.

Even inmates came to her defense and pleaded on her behalf, witnesses said. At this, jailers drug her from the cell to a holding cell, were she laid unresponsive.

Few news media have been reporting or spreading the word of this incident.

Manning writes, “I recently learned about Sarah Lee Circle Bear while attending a family ceremonial gathering. A relative set out a memorial chair for Sarah, a tradition of the Dakota and Lakota people. Sarah’s story was shared, and the circle prayed for her and her family for four days.”

Circle Bear’s family is now awaiting an autopsy and toxicology report. A young mother, Sarah Lee Circle Bear leaves behind two infant sons, one and two years old.

The atrocity and villainy of how the jail staff treated Sarah Lee Circle Bear ranks as hard a blow to communities of color as any of the recent tragedies involving Black women.

Here at Wear Your Voice, we can do no better than leave readers with Manning’s rallying cry for Sarah, Native American women, and COCs:

When any person is taken into custody and under the care of law enforcement, it is their right to receive appropriate medical attention and just treatment. This does not appear to be the case with Sarah Lee Circle Bear, and in the state of South Dakota where Native Americans are the largest minority and hate crimes are reported at high levels, it is time to demand a thorough investigation into her neglect and her death. It is time to demand better treatment of Native women, and justice for Sarah.


For updates on this developing story, please check back with Wear Your Voice.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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