Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What really happened to Sandra Bland?

By Charles Brooks

We paid attention and took notice of the disturbing trend.  We read the stories and saw the videos of not only blatant police harassment but of vicious police violence visited not on Black men – but on Black and Brown women, as well.  All across the country we saw it over and over - Black women pushed, punched, kicked, and at times suffering this violence while being handcuffed by the police. In those cases that did manage to reach national attention, we saw that these Black women were college professors, house wives, bathing suit clad teenagers and yes – even pregnant Black women felt the brunt of this police violence. 

Then we heard about what happened to Ms. Sandra Bland, a young 28-year old African American woman who was to start a new job with her alma mater, Prairie View A&M. She graduated from there in 2009 with a degree in Agriculture and was sorority sister with the Sigma Gamma Rho Society. 
There was a trickling of news coverage as social media turned up big time asking two critical questions that for many folks still remain unanswered – what happened to Sandra Bland and how did she really die? The local community, who are well aware of the racism in Waller County, immediately mobilized asking these very same questions as they took to the streets with protest demonstrations. The Medical Examiner of Harris County announced that Ms. Bland died by her own hands – by suicide – to a community who holds the strongest of doubts regardless of what autopsy reports concluded.  As Ms. Bland’s shocking death received more attention, there was this sense of bewilderment that simultaneously emerged that compelled the most natural of questions – why was Ms. Bland arrested and in jail for such a minor traffic incident?  And then we saw the dash cam video.  With each view, whether online or on television, there was a collective nod that deep down understood the reality that continues to define this nation – Sandra Bland would be alive if she was white. 

We know that on July 10th, Ms. Bland was pulled over by Texas State Trooper Brian T. Encinia for failure to signal a lane change – a minor traffic violation.  We saw from the dashcam video how this encounter quickly escalated due to the trooper’s aggressive behavior towards Ms. Bland. We also saw from cellphone video of Trooper Encinia using physical force on Ms. Bland.   She was charged with a third-degree felony charge of assault on a public servant and hauled off and held in jail on $5000 bond.  Three days later on July 13th, Ms. Bland was found dead in her cell.

From watching cable television news – there was a constant looping of the dash cam video – and rightly so.  The dash cam video needed to be looped over and over to visually frame the context of this encounter of police harassment and violence.  But consider this for a moment and ask yourself why we are not seeing the repetitive looping of the video of inside the jail where the death took place.  The video of inside the jail needs to be equally looped online and on the television screen over and over.  This is the scene that raises two very fundamental questions – what happened to Sandra Bland and how did she die? 

Fundamentally, the family just cannot reconcile the death of Sandra Bland with the fact that she was eager and looking forward to beginning a new chapter in Waller County.  Ms. Bland was due to start a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M. According to Ms. Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, Sandra was excited and enthusiastic about her future.  With the family knowing what they know about Sandra, this just doesn’t add up to them – and for a great many of those who did not know Ms. Bland.

From the very beginning of this tragic episode the family publicly expressed their doubts with the autopsy report – and for good reason.  During several interviews with media outlets, both members of the family and their attorney, Cannon Lambert have questioned the authenticity of documents paraded about by the media. They have also complained and expressed their frustration with how little information they are receiving from authorities in Texas. Incredibly, they received their information just like the rest of us - from the media! And if it’s at all possible to pour salt on the wound – apparently the medical examiner failed to complete a thorough autopsy and went so far as to request that the family return the body back to Texas for further examination.  Fortunately, the body was already embalmed in preparation for funeral services held July 25th in Chicago, Illinois.

But do you notice an unmistakable trend with these cases of police violence where critical questions are asked and remain unanswered along with a slow trickling of information. Then there’s the cruel assault on the victim’s character as information is given or “leaked” to public – a vicious smear public campaign designed to build a narrative framing the victim in the worst possible light. We’ve seen this nasty tactic being used before time and time again. Typically, there’s the recreational drug usage, sealed or not, the victims’ criminal record history, and with the Bland case, we see that authorities will go so far as to dig up your driving record history and release that information to the public.  You can see why there’s such a lack of confidence. So far we’ve witnessed “glitch” issues with the uploading of the dash cam video, medical examiner requests to perform additional testing on Ms. Bland after a “thorough” autopsy was completed, virtually no information from authorities provided to the family, inconsistent jail intake forms, and apparent non-compliance issues with the Texas jailing standards for training and inmate observation. 

Well, wouldn’t you know that in recent days, there’s been a flurry of activity from the District Attorney’s office; as of July 28th, the case is currently being investigated by both the Texas Rangers and the FBI. The Waller County District Attorney, Elton Mathis even announced that they were treat this case as a "murder investigation".  They’ve created an independent committee to review reams of information for grand jury review and publicly released toxicology reports as well as more video footage of Ms. Bland in the jail facility.  Meanwhile, the Bland family has ordered their own independent autopsy to find out what really happened to Sandra Bland. 

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