Sandra Bland. Remember the name, if you can. She’s just the latest in a growing, publicly known list of American citizens who have been either physically abused or murdered by US police for having the temerity to question their ‘authority’.
On July 10th 2015, Sandra Bland had recently arrived in Prairie View, Waller County, Texas from Illinois to begin a new job at her alma mater, A&M University, a historically black school 40 miles northwest of Houston. Texas has been described as the most racist state in the USA, and Waller County the most racist county in Texas. Segregation there is a way of life, from the cradle to grave, literally; cemeteries in the county are divided between black and white, with significantly more money being spent on the upkeep of white cemeteries.
While driving in Prairie View that day, Waller County trooper Brian Encina, with nothing better to do than harass drivers for minor traffic “violations” that endanger no one, pulled Bland over for not signaling a lane change.
The police dash-cam video of the encounter shows that, from the get-go, Bland expressed her irritation at being stopped and fined for no good reason. She was, however, fully compliant with the officer to the extent she was required, giving him her license and registration when asked. Noticing her irritation, Encina disingenuously asked Bland “what’s wrong?” This was Encina’s first attempt to intimidate Bland, yet she wasn’t in the mood to be cowed, and told him why she was irritated. The trooper made it clear that his question was not, in fact, sincere, by asking “are you done?”
The defining moment in the encounter then occurred when Encina asked Bland to put out her cigarette. Bland refused, stating that it was her car and her right to smoke in it if she pleased and the trooper had no authority to demand otherwise. Two justified challenges to his power was all this jumped-up little authoritarian could take, and he demanded that Bland get out of her car. Bland continued to assert her rights by refusing and repeatedly asked why she was required to do so.
At this point the trooper fell back on his training, which teaches US law enforcement to shout basic commands at ‘suspects’ until they comply. “I am giving you a lawful order,” Encina repeatedly shouted in response to Bland’s questions. Of course, his order wasn’t lawful at all. Encina’s training taught him that when citizens don’t obey cops’ barked orders, they are to be physically forced to do so. When Encina’s attempts to pull Bland out of her car failed, the trooper pointed his taser at the woman and screamed, “I will light you up! Get out now!” Bland then stepped out of her car.
Bland continued to verbally contest the treatment being meted out by Encina, and at one point stated: “I can’t wait until we go to court, oh! I can’t wait!” and “you want me to sit down now, or are you going to throw me to floor? That’ll make you feel better about yourself?” Bland also repeatedly called the trooper a “pussy-ass cop” for pulling her over for not signaling. With the woman’s hands cuffed behind her back, Encina then slammed Bland to ground, his knee on her neck, because she was “pulling away” from him. Bland is heard shouting to Encina: “you just slammed my head into the ground! Do you not even care about that?” Bland also told the trooper she had epilepsy, to which Encina responded, “good”.
In the video Encina can be heard explaining the situation to a colleague and admitting that, “she never swung at me but she was stomping around and that’s when I detained her.” He also claims that Bland kicked him. But Encina failed to recognize that it was Bland’s refusal to put out her cigarette and his aggressive attempts to get her out of her car that led to her “stomping around”. During this conversation the trooper also lies when he states that he told Bland she was under arrest after he threw her to the ground. The dash-cam video shows that he told her she was under arrest immediately after she refused to put out her cigarette and get out of the car.
If you’ve watched the dash-cam video, you may be wondering why Bland was so combative. First, it’s not a crime to be pissed off at a cop for arbitrarily pulling you over, although it is inadvisable in the burgeoning police state that is the USA. Secondly, Bland had been actively involved in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign in her home state of Illinois and regularly posted videos to her Facebook page where, among other things, she discussed police mistreatment of blacks. So it could be said that she was primed for the confrontation with Encina, which is not to condemn her attitude, nor excuse Encina’s.
Bland was taken to Waller County jail and placed in a cell for three days for “assaulting a public servant”. Bail was set at $5,000. After her arrest, Bland called her sister and told her that she feared her arm was broken. A Houston television station, KTRK-TV, stated that it obtained a voice message left by Bland for her friend LaVaughn Mosley after her arrest. In the message, Bland calmly says she’s, “still just at a loss for words honestly at this whole process” and wonders, “How did switching lanes with no signal turn into all of this?”
Death by Marijuana Plastic Bag Suicide While Standing
But the real questions here are why Bland was imprisoned at all. Why wasn’t she taken to a police station, charged and then released with a date for a court hearing? Why was she placed in a cell on her own rather with other detainees? Capt. Brian Cantrell of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office has stated that she was placed in a cell alone because she was deemed a “high risk” to the safety of others based on the nature of the charge against her. As we have seen however, the charge against her – “assaulting a public official” – is entirely bogus as it relates to Bland’s possible threat to other inmates. Bland was justifiably angry at the trooper; for anyone to suggest that this translates to her being a danger to other civilians is an obvious manipulation to justify placing Bland in a cell on her own.
According to Bland’s sister, Sharon Cooper, parts of the police report from the time she entered the jail have been redacted. A copy of the questions asked of Bland when she was booked at the jail was obtained by CBS News. The hand-printed document shows Bland confirming she had previously attempted suicide due to a miscarriage. A typed summary of Bland’s responses however shows the response to “Attempted suicide?” as “no.” The reason for the discrepancy is unclear. An inmate with a previous suicide attempt is routinely put on suicide watch and monitored every 10-20 minutes. Placing such a person in solitary confinement in a cell with a large plastic bag is also highly irregular.
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis stated that “looking at the autopsy results and toxicology, it appears she swallowed a large quantity of marijuana or smoked it in the jail.” This conflicts with the fact that there was no report of marijuana being found on Bland when she was booked into Waller County jail. It’s standard procedure for a prisoner to be extensively searched prior to being placed in a jail cell. The idea that a large quantity of marijuana would have been missed as part of this search, or that she could have smoked it during the 3 days she was incarcerated without jail personnel knowing, is implausible.
According to media, local officials released three hours of surveillance video from the hallway outside Bland’s cell, although the entire video has not been made available to the public. Several versions of the same video have been edited by mainstream media outlets to explain what is happening, based on Waller County jail officials’ chronology. One version of the video is clearly a recording of the video as it played on a monitor.
Waller County Sheriff’s investigators said the video starts at time-stamp 6:03 a.m., but it is actually nine minutes, 26 seconds fast. At the start, jail officers can be seen serving breakfast, which Bland refused.
At about 6:51 a.m., an officer can be seen entering cell 95 for a security check.
At 7:17 a.m., a different male officer can be seen peering into the rectangular window of cell 95, according to the chronology, “checking on Ms. Bland.”
About 30 seconds later, another officer stops at cell 95 and appears to be talking to Bland for a few seconds.
There’s then a gap in the footage — from 7:18 to 7:24 a.m. From 7:34 to 9:07 a.m., the video shows no movement in or out of cell 95. Or, to put it another way, the video camera recorded nothing since it is motion-activated. At 9:07 a.m., a female officer looks into Bland’s cell and runs to get help. Paramedics arrive 5 minutes later when Bland is pronounced dead. Capt. Brian Cantrell has stated that Bland was found in a “semi-standing position with the ligature surrounding her neck”. Is it physically possible to hang yourself when your feet can touch the ground?
Based on the partial video evidence, Bland was probably murdered somewhere between 7:18 and 9:00am.
According to her family members Bland was a confident and determined woman who was “ecstatic” about her new job in A&M University. Like everyone, she had her ups and downs, but the idea that she was contemplating “suicide” is unthinkable. Yet Waller County officials and the US media are using the fact that Bland had had a miscarriage over a year ago, along with alleged marijuana use, to support their conclusion that Bland took her own life. Citing preliminary autopsy results that show no sign of a violent struggle, Waller County prosecutor Warren Diepraam said that the cause of Sandra Bland’s death was hanging; the manner of her death was suicide. Yet this conclusion fails to consider the relative ease with which a person can be incapacitated without a struggle and then ‘suicided’. After about 48 hours, chloroform, for example, is no longer present in a human body.
There appear to be two lines of force at work here; righteous anger by US citizens – particularly blacks – against overweening, intrusive and abusive police (state) authority and racism will not be tolerated, and may well get you murdered. But it will also be exploited on a broad scale by the same authorities to divide and control all Americans. The increase in racist attacks over the past year, from New York (Eric Garner) to Ferguson (Mike Brown) to Baltimore (Freddie Gray) and Charleston (Dylann Roof’s shooting spree), suggest that a particularly American brand of ‘color revolution’ may be in the works in the USA. After all, what better ‘fault line’ in the human psyche to exploit than the age-old and depressingly human tendency to allow themselves to be divided based on the color of their skin.