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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

#SAYHERNAME: Sandra Bland, One Yr Ago Today

This one is amongst the more egregious, and mysterious, of police horrors that's occurred in the last few years. And yet, it hasn't gotten quite the attention (much less resolution) it deserves. Then again, it's so damned hard to keep up - they are all egregious!

This time a year ago, Sandra Annette Bland was criminally kidnapped, forcibly detained, and ended up dead in a Texas gulag. Previous coverage of this case can be read: here and also: here. But for now though, is a brief recap: On July 10th 2015, Bland, a resident of Naperville, IL, has just finished a successful job interview at Prairie View A&M University, to which she was an alumni. PVAMU is a historically Black college located in Prairie View, TX. Bland graduated from there in 2009. She was driving through Waller County, TX, not far from her alma mater, when she was pulled over by pig state trooper Brian T. Encinia for allegedly failing to signal during a lane change. This is probably the most minor traffic violation there is. What began as a routine inconvenience/racial pretext stop quickly escalated, when Encinia violated Bland's civil rights, demanded she exit her car (under threat of lethal force), and then arrested her. Bland was taken to jail where she was falsely charged with assaulting an officer, and held for several days. On July 13th, Bland's body was found in her cell. She was hanging from a bathroom partition with a plastic trash bag tied around her neck. Results from an initial autopsy at that time listed cause of death as "suicide". Bland was 28 years old. She is survived by her mother Geneva Reed-Veal and four other sisters.

Here are the basics of what's happened over the past year and where this case lies today: In the immediate wake of Bland's death, national outrage ensued. Dash cam footage from Encinia's patrol car was made public, showing the 30 year old trooper being hostile towards Bland, violating her Civil rights, and with taser in hand, threatening to "light her up" if she did not exit her vehicle. Video footage from a by-stander's cell phone was also made public, showing Bland on the ground with Encinia on top of her. In the days following Bland's death, the Texas Department of Public Safety launched an investigation into the situation surround's Bland's arrest. Encinia was placed on "administrative duty" (paid vacation). However, the TX DPS eventually found that Encinia indeed violated traffic stop and courtesy protocols, as well as LIE on an incident report about Bland being "combative" and "uncooperative". Even though the Waller County D.A. initially investigated Bland's suspicious death as a homicide, in December 2015, a TX grand jury failed to bring any charges against any of the staff at the jail where Bland had died. Waller Co. jail was cited for negligence, but nothing ever came of that. In August 2015, Bland's family filed a wrongful death suit against the Waller Co. sheriff's office, jail officials, and the TX Dept. of Public Safety. That trial is scheduled for January 23rd 2017 and will probably take place in Houston. In March 2016, a perjury charge was brought against Encinia, for LYING on police reports about his encounter with Bland and his "justification" for having arrested her in the first place. Shortly afterwards, He was formally fired as a state trooper. If... IF convicted of the perjury charge - a class A misdemeanor - Encinia faces [up to] one year in prison and a $4000 fine.   

Details about this infuriating saga are now known, that were not a year ago. Between TX and IL (but mostly TX), Sandra Bland had been arrested and cited numerous times. ALL of these police run-ins had been for minor, pissant infractions: speeding, not having liability insurance, expired tags, possession of tiny amounts of marijuana, etc. The marijuana charges, in particular, aren't even an arrestable crime in many states! Unfortunately, TX has some of the most draconian and inhuman laws on the books for drug offenses - including pot. TX is also a state with a cruel "poor" tax. What that basically directly means is that, if you are in TX and you get arrested for any reason, and you are poor - too poor to pay for bail, pay for decent legal representation, pay fines, pay off cops, etc. then you will pay DEARLY. TX also has no state income tax. That might sound nice at first, but all that means is the STATE will extract its pound of flesh via other means. And that always means that poor people pay a much higher tax burden... especially if they are arrested. Bland's various arrests in TX came not only with fines, but with extra taxes tacked onto those fines! $25 "record management" fees, $15 "judicial fund" fees, $15 arbitrarily tacked onto every bond, and so on. And if you don't pay your fines, then the state issues warrants for your arrest. So debtor's prisons thrive in TX. This sort of legal extortion is very common all over this country, but especially in TX and in small, rural, largely Black communities (Prairie View, the city in which Bland had been arrested, is 93.51% Black. The city's police, Waller Co. sheriff's dept. and state troopers are mostly all White. YOU do the math). Sandra Bland suffered from depression throughout her adult life. At least one suicide attempt has been documented, referencing several unified slash wounds across her inner left forearm. According to her medical records, Bland became pregnant in 2014, but lost the fetus due to severe complications. And though she graduated in 2009 with a degree in animal science, the country was in the iron grip of a financial depression (and largely still is). Despite having been well educated, Bland suffered a very hard time finding dignified employment. Her misdemeanor convictions (minor as they all were) made work searches even more difficult. Plus being a Black woman in America... that she was on her way from a fresh job interview at her former college when she was unjustly arrested speaks to a pattern of inescapable racism and economic depravity. There's only so damned much one can take. And it is quite possible Bland was driven to utter despair within her last hours on Earth. Thing is, even if Bland had committed suicide that day, she was driven by her jailers, the pig who arrested her, and the larger system every bit as much as by her own hands. She never should've been ARRESTED in the first goddamned place! 

In early 2015, Bland was becoming more conscious, more aware of the dire plight of Black people in the country. She was becoming more out-spoken on injustice issues, posting videos to her facebook page which she titled: #SandySpeaks, aligning herself with the Black Lives Matter movement. These would come to be her final selfless and defining acts on Earth. To this day, family and supporters keep Sandy's voice alive, by aligning her to that greater cause she so stood up for. In large part, that is what this very blog is about. So, I hope to do my part to keep Sandra Bland's name alive and unforgettable, however I can here. 

Sandy deserved much more, she was worth much more. Even in the wake of an apparent suicide (still unconfirmed), she was a stronger human than most of us. 

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