Arrested Development (What Happened to Sandra Bland?)

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Thought For The Day:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Question For The Day:

Do you overlook injustice?

I had every intention of writing something light and refreshing this week.  I honestly intend for this blog to be funny and fairly innocuous in it’s effort to educate and uplift. I am not the type of person who seeks to be controversial and would actually classify myself as naturally diplomatic, open, and accepting. Yet, the fact remains; I am an African American woman and I see the world through that lens. Although I dream of a society that is less race-obsessed, reality has given me this country at this point in history.  Even as a Black man resides in the White House (or perhaps because of it) the race issue has continued to rot and fester in the hearts of far too many, and it’s stench is becoming harder and harder to mask.  It is clear that something foul is in the air.

I would be less than honest if I pretended that all is well when so many profoundly disturbing stories are currently flooding media outlets. I’m still trying to digest the shooting of nine innocent people who gathered for bible study in Charleston, SC. I’m saddened for the families of the servicemen shot in Chattanooga. I’m managing my irritation with Bill Cosby for his hypocrisy and betrayal of the very people he vowed to uplift. Now, I’m grieving with the families of those shot in a Lafayette, LA movie theater as they watched “Trainwreck,” which ironically seems to describe the current state of American affairs.  Evil is certainly afoot and we had all better stay vigilant. However, nothing has personally impacted me more than the Sandra Bland case.  As her family and friends prepare for her funeral today, I am quietly contemplating how her family will move on from this tragedy.  It’s one thing to lose a family member to a legitimate accident, illness, or some other unforeseen but explainable circumstance.  But to be celebrating with a loved one who’s just landed her dream job one minute, only to be attending her funeral the next is unacceptable, especially when you’re told she ended her own life just as it was starting over.  How can one move through the stages of grief appropriately when the circumstances and mountain of unanswered questions would leave anyone stuck in a perpetual state of anger?  There’s no way her loved ones or the Black community as a whole will ever be able to move to a place of acceptance without the truth.

In case you live under a rock, Sandra Bland was a 28 year old African American woman who was pulled over for failing to signal before changing lanes. What should have been an uneventful traffic stop turned into something much more abusive and lethal. Not only was Ms. Bland forcibly removed from her vehicle, she was yelled at, man handled, and assaulted. She, of course, was blamed for it all and accused of “assaulting a public servant” although this wouldn’t have been possible had her consequences been proportionate to the infraction.  If she had been treated like a woman with no outstanding warrants who failed to signal before changing lanes, she would have surely been allowed to stay in her car and go on about her day. Instead, she was forced from her car, unlawfully detained, and arrested for talking back.  In Sandra’s case, her anger and willingness to express it was her crime.  Three days later, she coincidently “committed suicide” before she could take action against the officer for the mistreatment.

I watched the recently released footage from the arresting officer Brian Encinia’s dashcam, and was enraged. I could literally feel my blood pressure rising along with Sandra’s. The officer’s behavior was one of a man blinded by ego and incensed that a Black woman would have the nerve to challenge him. His behavior was in no way about doing his job. This man wanted to show this arrogant, uppity, sass-mouthing Black woman a thing or two and he was determined to put her back in her place by any means necessary. I know many will say that Sandra asked for the treatment she received. She was disrespectful, belligerent, and seemed to be the epitome of the “angry Black woman” so many despise. The same people say Eric Garner’s death was his own fault because he was selling loose cigarettes.  They empathize with George Zimmerman because Trayvon Martin shouldn’t have been wearing a hoodie at night. These same individuals might excuse the officer who shot Tamir Rice because, afterall, what business does a 12 year old have playing with a toy gun in the park?  I’d be willing to guess that these same people  didn’t make nearly as much noise when Dylan Roof murdered nine church going citizens and was treated with far more dignity and concern than Sandra Bland was treated for failing to signal before changing lanes. When are the people who stand in defense of these senseless deaths going to admit that something is wrong? When Black people die unnecessarily it ALWAYS seems to be justified, but Black lives matter too!  I know many want to take the officer’s account of what happened at face value and just chalk Sandra Bland’s death up to another out-of-control Black person getting what she deserved.  However, here are the reasons Sandra Bland’s arrest and subsequent death cannot be ignored.

She Was Profiled From Jump

I watched the police footage and noticed how the officer made a U-turn the minute he saw Sandra turn onto the street and pass him.  She hadn’t done anything wrong to warrant him even getting behind her to begin with.  He followed her closely, to which she responded, as all of us do,by moving over to the next lane to let the officer pass.  You only do this when you are sure you have done nothing wrong and assume the officer must be after someone else.  In her haste to get out of his way, she failed to signal and was pulled over for the oversight.  Who wouldn’t be aggravated?  In my opinion, the officer probably noticed her out-of-state plates, saw that she was a Black woman and assumed she was trouble.  He followed her figuring she would eventually do something wrong which would give him permission to pull her over and poke around for something to charge her with. It reminds me of a time me and my husband were traveling through Virginia coming back from Mississippi to New Jersey after getting married.  I opted to sit in the backseat with our near 1 year old son because he wasn’t feeling well. We were pulled over and three cop cars got behind us.  We were asked why I was in the back seat and were told that several people had been smuggling drugs through the state.  Once they ran our information, saw my son with me in the backseat, and noted that my husband was in the military at that time, they opted to let us go about our business.  However, would we have been pulled over in the first place had we not looked “suspicious.”  Black faces and New Jersey tags could only mean drug smuggling in the great state of Virginia, right?  We were profiled in that case as was Sandra Bland.  It is demoralizing to be stopped, questioned, searched or checked out by the police when you haven’t done anything wrong.  It is already unnerving to look up and see a cop in your rearview mirror, but to consider that a police officer might be taking advantage of this nervousness by following you and waiting for you to slip, would feel like a set up.   My guess is that had Sandra been White, Officer Encinia wouldn’t have even noticed her and she’d be enjoying her Saturday today instead of being buried.

She Was Provoked

How are you going to ask someone if they are okay and mention that they seem irritated only to get angry with them when they admit it and tell you why?  Officer Encinia knew that Sandra was angry.  He had already taken a long time to run her information.  He probably checked every database known to man, looking for anything that would give him a reason to arrest her. Yet after his search turned up empty, and too much time had passed for it to make sense, he knew she would be upset.  Why push her buttons with a sarcastic “Are you done?”  or insist she put out a cigarette that she was likely using at that moment to calm her nerves?  Sandra is certainly a fighter and  obviously not one to bite her tongue, but Officer Encinia was looking for a fight that day as well.

Attitude Is Not a Crime

People have a right to be upset when they feel they are being wrongfully targeted.  We have a right to insist on knowing why we are being given “lawful orders.”  Why did she have to put out her cigarette exactly?    She had a point when she noted, it was her car and her cigarette.  She was not being arrested at that point.  It is not illegal to smoke in your car is it?  Do the police have a right to forcibly remove you from your car because they don’t like your tone?  I thought it was within one’s rights to ask why he/she is being apprehended. Was she supposed to be anything other than upset, angry, or insulted when the officer threatened to “light her up” or when he shouted “good” when she told him about medical issues that could make man-handling her dangerous.  The fact is, you don’t get to use brute force because someone pisses you off.  The average citizen would be arrested for behavior like that and although the police represent the law, they shouldn’t be above it.

The Officer Lied Afterward to Cover His Behind

I think the part of the video that disturbed me the most was listening to the officer explain to someone (likely his supervisor) that he “kept trying to de-escalate” the situation.  He made Sandra out to be some sort of Tasmanian devil who mowed him down with her fury.  He was the innocent peacemaker who fell victim to the unbridled rage of the Black woman.  Because I don’t curse, the most I’m willing to say is GTFOHWTBS!!  (If you don’t know, you better ask somebody)   How are you de-escalating the situation by putting your hands on someone and threatening to drag them out of their car?  How is it soothing to hear someone threatening to “light you up?”  When has yelling at someone at the top of your lungs ever worked to ease tension?  Ignoring someone’s complaints of pain and saying “good” when they tell you slamming their head to the ground could have lethal consequences is not doing anything to resolve a conflict.  Officer Encinia was anything but calm and was having a full-on tantrum when challenged by this fearless woman who had the audacity to understand and assert her rights.

Police Corruption is Real

I know that people who do not traditionally have a contentious history with the police, assume that all cops are good-intentioned and would never lie, cover their tracks, hide evidence, plant evidence, trump up charges, or have other high level officials such as judges or prosecutors compromise investigations by falsifying reports, manipulating evidence, botching autopsies, altering lab reports, etc.   However, it doesn’t take much research to uncover countless examples of police corruption and a lengthy tradition of pinning crimes on innocent people.    It’s generally a safe bet to blame it on the Black guy.  Even if there appears to be excessive force or a questionable cause of death, it’s generally easier to believe the victim was at fault especially if you have a lot of paperwork to back it up.  The question is, who’s writing the reports?  If it’s your department, city, or county’s reputation on the line, would you really be honest or might you do what you had to in order to protect your people?  To me, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that reports of heavy marijuana usage on the part of Sandra Bland could be an attempt to smear her character.  Why would a woman starting a new job smoke that much weed knowing she would likely be drug tested?  It’s also a lot easier to say someone committed suicide when there are no witnesses.  This cellmate who claims to have heard Sandra crying in her cell all night could have been offered a deal in exchange for that report.  Claims of “suicide” for black folks who died under curious circumstances rivals “he raped me,” the go to response for White women who were found to have been intimate with Black men.  Both are easy ways to excuse personal misdeeds by relying on the stereotypes many already hold about Black people.  In the case of the police, they have the resources to make what could be fictitious, appear factual.

Sandra Did Not Behave Like a Suicidal Woman

Okay, here’s where I have to throw my social work hat into the ring and call BS on the suicide claim.  If someone has been chronically depressed long enough to actually follow through and attempt suicide, they don’t aggressively pursue new opportunities.  It would seem like a waste of money, resources, and energy for Sandra to pack up her entire life and move to a new state.  She surely put a lot of effort and planning into facilitating this new start.  Suicidal people don’t even bother to look for new jobs, let alone adjust their lives to accommodate one.  Suicidal people don’t contact concerned relatives to assure them they are okay or express concern about missing their first day of work.  Even if Sandra had experienced depression in the past, it would be understandable if the cause was miscarriage as reports indicate.  It is in no way a permanent indicator of her ongoing mental stability.  As someone who has worked with suicidal people, I can tell you there is a total loss of hope, energy, motivation, and interest in pleasurable things.  There is a pattern of isolation and withdrawal from friends and loved ones.  There is preparation for one’s death and a settling of affairs.  None of this is evident with Sandra Bland.  In fact, she demonstrates the complete opposite in her efforts to pursue her dream job, and relocate which takes a tremendous amount of energy, hope and motivation.  Sandra was in frequent contact with her loved ones and absolutely no one got the sense that she was preparing for an ending.  To the contrary, she was putting a full effort into initiating a new start.  I’ve heard reports that while in jail, she refused to eat out of fear that her food would be contaminated.  If this is true, this also is not indicative of suicidal ideation.  Suicidal people do not fear for their safety, in fact they welcome risk. The suicide alibi might have worked under other circumstances, but they should have tried plan B in this case.  Not many of us believe that  this woman with everything to live for, would throw it all away in a Waller County, Texas jail cell.  In fact, what we’ve seen of Sandra Bland suggests that she wouldn’t have given her jailers that kind of satisfaction anyway.  Surely she would have fought this injustice to the end, which is why some might have felt her death was a necessary evil.

I know us Black folks are frequently accused of being “trouble makers” and always “complaining” about injustice that many doubt is even real. But what if all us rebel rousers were actually telling the truth and really did experience harassment and undue violence at an alarmingly higher rate than others. Would it matter to anyone?  Will we always be totally to blame for every death or unlawful arrest?  Sandra Bland refused to accept the blame in her case.  She was  not a soft-spoken, subservient woman and could clearly stand toe-to-toe with anyone.  These qualities should be admirable.  We are supposed to be a society that questions, challenges, and respects the rights of all citizens.  When it becomes illegal to speak your mind, and Black folks become afraid to assert our rights, challenge unjust harassment or call foul when necessary, then we have regressed back to a slave mentality.  Being arrested for demanding fair treatment takes us back to the days when Civil Rights activists were being beaten and jailed for requesting service at their local diner.  Sandra Bland’s arrest showed us all that not enough has changed.  So many have fought, died, and struggled for the freedom we have today, yet there still seems to be a price to pay for exercising that freedom.  Incarcerating someone for demanding justice, is not just an unlawful arrest, but a sign of America’s continued arrested development.  If this was the Jim Crow South we would have to accept the deaths and disappearances of our loved ones because no one would care if we suspected foul play.  However, it’s 2015 people, and we demand to know.

What happened to Sandra Bland?????!!!!!!

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