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Sandra Bland- A Personal-Societal Autopsy

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Message Al Rodbell
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Sandra Bland after arrest
Sandra Bland after arrest
(Image by Waller County Sheriff's Office)
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Sandra Bland was a woman who by all evidence was on the cusp of having a good and full life, and making a genuine contribution to the most entrenched stresses of our country, the ongoing conflict between the races. We now know based on this report in today's N.Y. Times that there is evidence that she did hang herself, and absolutely none that she was murdered. This does not close the case, it raises the question beyond the proximate cause of incompetence of the local police-legal system to what her suicide reflects. By carefully examining the details of her arrest, the deputies behavior and Bland's reaction there is much to learn about the state of this ongoing demand for change.

I have watched the entire fifty minute video on several websites, and will reference this one the "Texas Tribune" (TT version), from which I take quotes further along this essay.

This N.Y. Times article "Assesing the Legality of Sandra Bland's Arrest." evaluates a short video of four selected key events, giving legal analyses, but lacking of some important elements

The above linked TT video shows the entire encounter, from Brian T. Encinia, a state trooper, pulling over Sandra Bland, beginning in a friendly manner until she was hauled off in handcuffs. Unlike most criminal cases with second hand testimony of witnesses and participants, the public gets to see what actually occurred, complete with intonation and emotional expression of both parties. I will be going over the interaction of the dashboard camera, which in spite of questions of editing, shows the deputy at his worse, and was unlikely sanitized.

The media had been speculating on her hanging, whether it was a murder or suicide. This included a major columnist in the New York Times who laid out the evidence. I believe Sandra was a victim of something much more profound, and this is worthy of exploration, as itgives her short life, her ultimate sacrifice, meaning.

My contention is that her death was the result of the deep despair that she felt, and was a manifestation of her sense of hopelessness that affected her more than it would have others who spend a few days in a lock up. She was a woman who was not part of the stereotypical black subculture of violence, but rather an individual who had earned a college degree based on her belief that justice would prevail even in spite of widespread deceit and bias against Blacks by law enforcement agencies. Before this interaction descended into violence by the officer and vilification of him by Bland in response, her assertion, "Wait till this gets to court" showed her belief that the system worked, that justice would triumph.

Others, black men that I know personally, know better. They expect what they get from traffic stops such as this, so it is not taken personally. Recently some friends were discussing this and our "token Negro" as he jokes, made it clear. "When a cop stops me, I keep my hands visible for him to see, illustrating in his tone of voice a friendly respect." He knows the drill.

I suggest that reader be familiar with at least the first fifteen minutes of the original video (corrected for technical problems) It clearly shows that Bland's description of her moving to the right to let the cruiser pass is accurate. The N.Y. Times legal review leaves out one question posed by Encinia at 3:90 in the TT version, "Where are you headed to now." While in another context would be friendly small talk, in this setting where the officer was asserting his right to deprive the citizen of her freedom by force, the question is rightly viewed as a demand for information. Since her destination had no bearing on the offense that she was to be charged for, it was a deprivation of her constitutional right to privacy.

At 8:05 we see Encinia after returning from the usual checking out legitimacy of her license and ownership, asking Bland "Are you O.K., you look irritated" with Bland responding cogently without any hostile affect. " I am, I was just getting out of your way so you could pass me, and you stopped me to give me a ticket, so yeah I am a little irritated."

Encinia quietly: "Are you done? Bland: calmly speaking, "Yes, you asked me if I'm irritated and I told you, so I'm done."

Encinia: with a somewhat subtle hostile tone for the first time: "Would you mind putting out your cigarette please, if you don't mind!" This was at 8:30. It's where everything changed.

Bland: calmly "I'm in my car I don't have to put out my cigarette"

Encinia: "You can step out now"

Bland: "I don't want to step out of my car"

Now at 9:40 the dialogue turns contentious. Encinia now gives orders based on his authority that he refuses to explain. From the time of Blands refusal to put out her cigarette, she was, without Encinia saying the actual official words: "I am placing you under arrest" did give her orders as if she were under arrest." This is a subject of extensive litigation of what a police officer may do when suspect is, or is not, "under arrest,"

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Retired Commercial Printing Executive, developer of I.T. systems for the industry. Advanced degrees in Social Psychology, now living in Southern California
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