Thursday, July 23, 2015
SayHerName: Sandra Bland
On July 10, 2015, a Waller County, Texas police officer name Brian Encinia set in motion events that tragically, needlessly interrupted Sandra Bland's life. Bland had returned to Texas to accept a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University in Texas, more than 1,000 miles from her home in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois. Sandra Bland had graduated from the historically black college in 2009 and was returning there as a student ambassador, according to her family. Three days later on July 13, 2015, Sandra Bland was "found dead" in her jail cell, without the possibility of resuscitation.
Officer Encinia stopped Ms. Bland, so he later claimed, because she failed to signal while changing lane. This was information he felt she had no right to ask for or to know, until he was good and ready to reveal it, regardless. I have seen thousands of people in my lifetime change lanes without signaling or while signaling and have yet to meet one who was stopped by police for said violation--somebody out there may know one or two or be one of the few. But based on the seemingly doctored footage of the encounter between Ms. Bland and the Texas cop, he never informed her of why he had stopped her or that he was placing her under arrest. Yet he immediately attempted to control her movements to make her submissive, regardless, by asking her to stop smoking the cigarette she had in her hand. Ms. Bland was asked if she was irritated and she said yes because she did not understand why she was being stopped. The officer, in my opinion, was baiting Ms. Bland into a hostile encounter. He saw that she was irritated and so said, "You seem irritated. Are you irritated?" I believe he wanted her to verbalize her irritation with him for the dashcam. Her words he wanted on tape, but not his violent actions. In response to this compliance (the verbalizing of how she felt at his request), the officer then told Ms. Bland to get out of the car, hoping, I believe, to increase her irritation, escalating the situation. She asked why and refused. The officer then further escalated the situation, reaching into her car, grabbing her, and yelling "I will light you up." At that point Ms. Bland got out of the car with her cigarette in hand; the angry trooper with his overbearing presence compelled her out of the path of the dashcam. The dashcam is there in order to protect both citizens and the cops. She needed it more that day than he--and I believe he knew this. It seems that the police officers did not want what they were about to do to Sandra Bland caught on video tape. I could not bring myself to watch the entire video of Sandra Bland's tragic encounter with the Waller County, Texas trooper, but I heard and saw snippets of it on the local news. Even in snippets, it is painful--too painful to fully digest in one sitting, or at all.
And after three days Sandra Bland was dead in her jail cell; authorities immediately notified the public that she had committed suicide by smothering herself with a plastic bag. Today, The Huffington Post reported that the DA stated that Sandra Bland swallowed large amounts of marijuana while in custody. I guess she got the marijuana from the same source she got the plastic bag that snatched her last breath--her captors??!
It haunts and hurts me that Sandra Bland died after an encounter with a cop for what was supposedly a minor traffic infraction, if one occurred at all; that she would not have died had she not been stopped for no clear reason on July 10, 2015 by trooper Encinia. The police are supposed to protect and serve and not escalate and brutalize citizens. Some have said that Sandra Bland deserved the mistreatment she received from Encinia and the other officer present at the scene because she was "combative" and not submissive, regardless. It has never been enough for black people, or women in general, in this country to be submissive. And for women (men and children) who live with or encounter abusers, no amount of submission is enough. An abuser will tease and test his victims in order to extract anew the level of submission said abuser needs, demands at any given time in any given situation. And black women are expected to be doubly submissive because of their race and gender. It was deeply disappointing to see women (I expect it of many men) justifying Sandra Bland's death because she spoke her mind (as if that in itself is a capital offense), audaciously asked why she was being stopped, refused to stop smoking in her own car and initially refused to exit her vehicle. I don't believe Sandra Bland would have escaped this encounter with only a warning as the police officer claimed in the "video". Abusers like to blame their victims with statements like "If only you had done/acted a certain way" or "if you had not provoked me." I believe the officer stopped Ms. Bland in order to harass her, hoping she would be the "angry black woman" at whom he might justifiably direct his sense of entitlement and rage.
A lot of women have been taught by church and society that they are to be good "foot stools" for men, and when a woman "acts up" or refuses to be that foot stool, that "biblically" submissive woman, then she is seen as deserving any violence inflicted upon her. It can be explained away. Women who have not broken loose from this type of thinking, of course, include themselves in the mix. So they do all they can to be "good girls" (I even heard a female minister not long ago at a breast cancer event talk about the book she wrote about how women can be little girls again and thus become good marriage material) always submissive to male authority and abuse.
It troubles me deeply that as with other black women, men and children who have been senselessly brutalized and murder by rogue and racist cops, authorities and the media immediately began attempts to smear Sandra Bland's character or to support the trooper's version of events. Elton Mathis, Waller County's District Attorney, said of Sandra Bland at a press conference Monday, July 20, 2015, that "This was not a model person that was stopped." And Mathis added "it was not a model traffic stop." He applies the phrase "not a model person" to Sandra, while using the same phrase to describe the "traffic stop" rather than the officer. He negatively characterizes Sandra Bland herself but to the traffic stop, not the officer, Mathis attributes vague imperfection. He depersonalizes the stop as if Trooper E was being rated for his performance in a training drill. But Sandra Bland's character is tarnished. And people who are branded less than model citizens become unworthy of justice. Historically, in this country black women were and could be raped by white men with impunity. If ever a white man was indicted for raping a black woman, he almost always avoided conviction by claiming that the victim was less than a model citizen. Rosa Parks was not the first tired black woman forced to give up her seat on a public bus, but she was a "model citizen." The tag "not a model person" is in some form or another often attached to people of color and it conjures up a host of illicit activities in the minds of the public who are constantly bombarded with images of black people as less than model citizens. Black people are more often characterized as thugs, unjustifiably and perennially angry, drug dealers, sexually loose, needlessly belligerent, combative hotheads, lazy, etc.. Mathis immediately called into question Sandra's character. Elton Mathis' statement tells me that he himself is not a model person or a model DA; that he is biased. One more reason that we need an independent investigation; we need the justice department to step in.
It disturbs me each time rogue and racist cops and others (i.e., George Zimmerman, et al.) have sought to justify the murder of black people, they conjure up a narrative of fear. It is interesting that cops who commit police brutality against black women, men, and children default to the narrative of fear for their own lives regardless, as if we all are wild animals. You know how it goes: an animal is always an animal, capable of biting the hand that feeds or pets it and therefore should always be feared. So whenever they are killed, evoke the narrative. Why not? it has worked in the past and it has worked in our biased judicial system. And even some black folk have accepted the narrative, regardless. According to Officer Encinia, Sandra Bland struggled with him and kicked him in the shin, and this caused him to fear her. He feared her so that he slammed her head against the ground as he pinned her to the ground and she could not feel her arm. She cried that she was subject to epileptic seizures, and he said "I don't care." He, the cop in possession of a taser and gun, was willing to jeopardize her life--because she allegedly failed to signal or because she supposedly kicked him in the shin. Yet, it was he who first threatened--and I believed delivered on his threat when out of sight of the dashcam- bodily harm to Sandra Bland: "I will light you up."
As has already been noted too many questions remain: Why was Sandra's mug shot taken in a prison jumpsuit and not in the clothes in which she was booked? Where did Sandra get a plastic bag? If Sandra Bland became suicidal after three days in jail, which I doubt, unless she was further brutalized and forced to take her own life, where did she get a plastic bag? According to records, Sandra allegedly admitted to attempted suicide after she had lost her baby but stated that she was not now suicidal. It seems to me that authorities doing their due diligence would have made sure there was nothing in her cell that could have allowed her to take her own life, given such a history. Now the authorities are claiming that Sandra Bland had taken large amounts of marijuana while in custody. How could she do so when the authorities had taken her picture in a jumpsuit and thus had already searched her and taken all her belongings including her clothing? Where did she get the marijuana? What was the officer doing to Sandra when he forced her out of sight of the dashcam, and why did the female officer not intervene? In what ways was the video of the encounter edited? What was taken out of the video?
I travel alone quite a bit. I am black and female. And on some days I am "sick and tired of being sick and tired," and I might just be courageous enough to assert my right to know if I should be stopped by a cop. And that cop might be like Officer Encinia. He might refuse to tell me why I am being stopped and yet expect my full unmitigated compliance. Or I might comply but be bullied and provoked--everyone, most people, have a breaking point. Like other black women and men in this country, my life could be cut short by one trivial, unnecessary encounter with the wrong police officer. Our fears are real. Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, and many others, in marked and unmarked graves were real people who are mourned and missed by family and friends. For some it won't be real, the fear, the facts, until it happens to them or to someone they know. But now is past time to say "never again." #SayHerName #BlackLivesMatter #Godrequiresjustice