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Sandra Bland, one year later

The timing of this is tragically appropriate.

Sandra Bland

With confident, and sometimes vulnerable, lyrics, a group of poets and singers Sunday afternoon commemorated the life of [Sandra] Bland, who had been found dead in her Waller County Jail cell three days after her arrest. Authorities ruled the 28-year-old’s death a suicide. More than 75 people assembled over two hours to honor the young woman whose name in the year since had become familiar in households across Texas and the nation, repeated by those in the Black Lives Matter movement as another example of an individual they believed needlessly died following an encounter with law enforcement.

Bland’s name was joined last week by two more, Alton Sterling, who was shot to death by police last Tuesday in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile, who was shot by an officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota on Wednesday.

Then, too, a lone sniper attacked in Dallas, fatally shooting five police officers, and injuring seven others.

Speakers remembering Bland sought to digest all of that.

Hannah Bonner, a United Methodist clergy member who helped lead the event, asked everyone to turn and face the nearby brick gates of Prairie View A&M, representations of safety, education and progress, she said.

They were also the gates Bland – who had recently returned to the city and her alma mater to take a job – had driven through when a state trooper “came up fast behind her,” Bonner said.

“And she got over to get out of his way,” Bonner continued. “And he ended up pulling her over right here in this spot. She asserted her rights and he did not respect them, and this week we are seeing through the death of Alton Sterling, through the death of Philando, through the death of these officers in Dallas, and the citizens … we are seeing that the lack of police accountability in this nation is a danger to black lives, but it’s also becoming a danger to other officers. Because when officers are not held accountable for their actions it puts everybody – including other officers – at risk.”

[…]

The Bland case sparked calls for bail reform and brought issues of jail suicide and indigent defense into the headlines.

Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith, who is sitting for re-election in November, issued a citizen’s review of his office, as well.

Released in April, the report recommended a new jail, body cameras for officers, medical and mental health screening for all inmates, stress management training for deputies and a ban on demeaning language directed at inmates.

See here for more on the review report, and here for prior blogging on Sandra Bland. To the extent that reforms have been carried out in Waller County, it’s all to the good, but we need more of that everywhere in the state. No one should be in jail simply because they cannot afford to post bond, and no one should be hauled off to jail for being mouthy at a traffic stop. We know what we can do to make things better. We just have to do them. The Lege has a chance to do that in 2017. I can’t say I have much faith, but they’ll be the only game in town. Be prepared to let your legislators know what you want them to do to achieve justice for all.

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12 Comments

  1. Terrance Jewett says:

    Dan Patrick already let us know what he thinks of protestors and those who want equal rights. The state of Texas is not interested in giving us equal treatment.

  2. Jules says:

    “No one should be in jail simply because they cannot afford to post bond, and no one should be hauled off to jail for being mouthy at a traffic stop.” Charles, I could not agree more.

  3. C.L. says:

    Too bad her family didn’t rise to the occasion and bail her out.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    Bland went to jail for “contempt of cop,” and that is, or should be, a crime. I don’t blame the trooper for her death, clearly she was unstable and had a long history of poor decision making. I do blame the trooper for dragging her out of the car and everything after that. He should have gone to jail for abusing his authority.

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    @C.L.:

    Even though I think it was a bad arrest, I’m sure the family was tired of the same old roller coaster with her. I know I wouldn’t have bailed her out, either, if I had already bailed her out for traffic related nonsense several times before. First time? Absolutely. Second time? Maybe. Umpteenth time? Sorry. Enjoy the bologna sandwiches.

  6. C.L. says:

    Driving through whatever southern Texas town and being mouthy and obstinate and belligerent and not following law enforcement instructions and not having enough money in your pocket to cash the check your mouth is encouraging you to write is a Monopoly card that instructs you to go to jail post haste. Was it a low rent bust ? Yeah, but stable folks don’t put themselves in that position to begin with.

    What I’m tired of is the martyrdom – really, a street named after her because she placed herself in an untenable position and ultimately took her own life ? Just plain weird.

  7. Steve Houston says:

    It strikes me as fascinating how someone that would not be eligible for a PR bond like Bland has become the poster child for bail reform. She was charged with the assault on the trooper for kicking him, not generally a PR bond charge, and still owed many thousands for her many previous encounters with police, perhaps that being what pushed her to kill herself more than the loss of the temporary internship she was believed to be interviewing for. Perhaps more will be made public when the trooper goes to trial on the trumped up charges or perhaps not but again, tying reform to Bland is a mistake considering the deeper you look at the facts, the weaker the case for reform becomes.

  8. Bayard Rustin says:

    Sandra Bland’s death was a tragedy. Brian Encinia was fired and charged with perjury. There’s no need to find fault with the deceased–she took her own life while in jail for a minor charge.

  9. Steve Houston says:

    Bayard, whether Encinia was thrown to the wolves out of political expediency or not, he has yet to have his day in court. And while any death is tragic, in this case we are all better off learning from it rather than denying her role in all of it. Under any of the suggested bail reforms, Bland would not have been a candidate due to her own actions so misleading people as time fades the specifics from their minds is a bad idea. The event also put DPS on notice that despite their trouble finding qualified candidates for field work, they are just going to have to do better moving forward at finding people with the right temperament for such work.

  10. Bayard Rustin says:

    I don’t find Sandra Bland’s suicide an opportunity for characterization. The woman died in jail after being charged for a minor offense.

  11. Steve Houston says:

    Assaulting a state trooper is hardly a “minor offense” Bayard and given the willingness to characterize any of the other people involved in the matter, as the primary person responsible for the event getting out of hand, she is fair game just like the rest of them are. This was the first time since the trooper was off training that anyone had a problem with him out of what is reported to be many hundreds of traffic stops and other encounters while Bland had a lengthy history of going to jail and being confrontational with authorities. If he had a sorted history of bad encounters, that would be a different story but that was not the case; his temperament being unsuitable for the position judged on a sole encounter makes me wonder.

  12. Bayard Rustin says:

    “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” Abraham Lincoln