*July 13 will mark two years since the death of the woman whose racial profiling incident sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. Sandra Bland was 28-years-old when a police officer in Texas Waller County pulled her over for not signaling a lane change. Something that would — or dare I say, should — under normal circumstances, have resulted in a fine or even a warning, escalated into a major event that would ultimately turn fatal. Little reminder is needed as we recall the horrific way that Bland was forcefully removed from her car by the cop because she wouldn’t extinguish her cigarette. Moreover, as seen on a recording by a dashcam video, she was threatened by an obviously short-tempered officer who pulled a stun gun or her and threatened, “I will light you up!”
When the incident hit social media emotions ran high. But they reached a boiling point when Bland was discovered hung in her jail cell three days later and her death was ruled a suicide.
Adding insult to injury, the arresting officer, a state trooper named Brian T. Encinia, had attempted to justify the arrest by charging Bland with ‘assaulting a public servant.’ But thanks to the video, a perjury charge and subsequent trial held Encinia accountable and he was ultimately fired for the way he handled Bland’s arrest.
Fast forward to March 2. 2017: State Rep Garnet Coleman D-Houston stood at a press conference at the Capital and announced House Bill 2702, otherwise known as the Sandra Bland Act. Some of the main points proposed by his Bill included “limiting police searches during stops, adding reporting requirements for racial profiling and creating an independent ombudsman to monitor inmates’ rights and services.”
Additionally, according to The Texas Tribune, “The exhaustive piece of legislation would expand what qualifies as racial and ethnic profiling; mandate people experiencing a mental health crisis and substance abuse be diverted to treatment over jail; and create more training and reporting requirements for county jails and law enforcement.”
Sounded promising, right?
I hope the past tense has been noted. Only a month and a half later the Bill has gone through so many revisions it has become unrecognizable. Some say it falls short of even mentioning the name of Sandra Bland; and because of its diluted presence, and heavy slant towards mental illness care access and better jail training, Bland’s supporters say maybe it shouldn’t.
Sandy’s sister, Sharon Cooper told The Associated Press, “What the bill does in its current state renders Sandy invisible. It’s frustrating and gut-wrenching.”
In her Friday interview with the AP, Cooper said she is speaking on behalf of her entire family and says as the legislation now stands, it “isolates the very person it seeks to honor” and makes compromises at the expense of the family. “It painfully misses the mark for us,” she said.
Cooper didn’t necessarily say that they’d just as well take her sister’s name off of the Bill, but as I referred to earlier, its a move that organizers frustrated by the outcome would probably welcome.
On the other end of the spectrum, Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas called the original proposal “too broad” and a “punitive attack” on all of law enforcement.
“It was a straight-out attack on all law enforcement over a tragic suicide in a county jail,” Wilkison said. “Appropriately, now we’re talking about mental health diversion.”
“I don’t think it’s worthy of her name,” she said. “It should be a bill that actually takes away the issue that caused her death. Not this,” said Fatima Mann, a woman who helped organize a protest in honor of Bland in Austin and showed support for the original Bill.