BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
You wouldn’t think failure to signal when making a turn with your car would deserve a death sentence, but… that’s what happened, effectively, to Sandra Bland.
And, yesterday, a grand jury returned no indictments against individuals who might have been responsible for her death. In fairness, the grand jury is to reconvene next month and consider other indictments, so we’ll see what comes of it. Meanwhile, Bland’s family is already taking legal action.
On July 10, in broad daylight, an officer pulled Sandra Bland over near her workplace (Prairie View A&M University) for failing to use her turn signal. The police dashcam video is available on YouTube, so you can see for yourself how a very average traffic stop went terribly wrong.
The first part of the interaction was normal, traffic-cop-pulls-driver-over-driver-is-annoyed. It’s after the officer returns from doing his thing in the police car that things go wrong.
He says she seems irritated, and she tells him what she’s thinking. Then he asks her to put out her cigarette, and, when she refuses, the tragedy commences. He orders her out of the car. She refuses. He threatens to pull her out of the car, then opens the door and tries to do so, ultimately pulling his gun on her, whereupon she got out of the car.
All this time, the conversation is such that I could easily imagine me being the driver. Bland’s comments and observations were much like ones I might have made to some overzealous police officer. She criticizes the extremes he’s going to over a simple signal-use violation and his attitude. He says he’s giving her a lawful order, threatens to “light her up” after pulling his gun out, and later states he was only going to give her a warning.
Once Bland exited the car, both went onto the sidewalk, largely out of view of the dashcam, but the conversation is still audible. It keeps getting worse. He tells her to put away her phone, though it sounds to me as though she is saying she doesn’t have it out. At another point, the officer is telling someone else to leave the area. She mentions being epileptic and that he is (or might be) hitting her head to the ground and he responds “good” …
She ends up being arrested and jailed for three days until she is found hanged, with a garbage bag, in her cell three days later. It is being ruled a suicide but the family doesn’t believe it and has asked for a second, independent, autopsy, the results of which have not been released.
The family attorney is critical of the grand jury process because it is secretive, and there’s no way of knowing what evidence is presented to the grand jury. He is dissatisfied with how the investigation into Bland’s death is being handled, citing as an example the fact that the bag with which she was hanged has not been checked for fingerprints.
Regardless of how this shakes out, the root of the problem is not limited to the racism plaguing many of the police departments in the U.S. This is blatantly evident to anyone who has any awareness of the numerous deaths of Black citizens at the hands of law enforcement.
The other factor is the haughty attitude with which many police officers approach and interact with citizens. Just because they have a gun and a badge does not mean they are infallible or that some law has given them carte blanche to do as they will with the people they encounter. They are on the job “to protect and to serve” not “to abuse and assassinate”!
This is the kind of attitude that undoubtedly underlies some of the problems that we encounter in areas Armenians inhabit in high densities.
We should be actively engaged in police reform and sensitivity training efforts. I had a recent similarly unpleasant (but nowhere near as lengthy or grave) encounter right in front of my residence!
Go out, speak to police officers over a beer, become an officer yourself, get on your local police commission (or other oversight entity), speak out at city council meetings, since this is an important, current, and very sensitive issue which impacts us both as citizens and as a minority group.