The arrest and death in police custody of Bland has become a focus of outrage and protests against cop brutality, from Texas to New York and across the country. Bland, 28, died July 13 in the Waller County Jail in Hempstead, Texas, three days after she was arrested during a minor traffic stop. She was found hanging in the cell with a plastic trash bag around her neck; county officials ruled it suicide.
“She died because she was driving while Black,” said Yatasha Grant of Grays Lake. “I came today because it could have been me, my sister, my mother, my aunt. She shouldn’t have been pulled over, or thrown in jail. She shouldn’t be dead.”
A police dashboard camera and a bystander’s cellphone captured the arrest. State Trooper Brian Encinia told Bland she had been pulled over for failing to signal a lane change properly. She explained that she was trying to get out of the cop’s way. Encinia asked her to put out her cigarette; Bland declined. Encinia ordered her to get out of the car, and when Bland insisted on her rights he drew his stun gun. “I will light you up!” he shouted, pointing it at Bland. “Get out! Now!”
Bland got out of the car, and Encinia escorted her to the curb, out of sight of the police camera. A shouting match developed. Bland is heard protesting that Encinia slammed her into the ground, she hit her head, and she couldn’t hear or feel her arms. She told Encinia that she had epilepsy. “Good,” he replied.
“I’m infuriated and everybody else should be infuriated,” Sharon Cooper, Bland’s sister, told reporters July 22, the day after the police video was released.
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said he would open a criminal investigation of the cop’s actions. Encinia has been placed on administrative leave.
Bland was taken to the county jail and held on a charge of assaulting a public servant. Officials say that at the time she was admitted, Bland told them she had tried to commit suicide the previous year and had suffered from depression. She was placed alone in a cell, and not monitored as being at risk. She was held over the weekend while her family worked to arrange a $5,000 bond.
The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, which conducted an autopsy for the Waller County prosecutor, claims that Bland committed suicide by hanging.
A fighter who ‘refused to be silenced’Bland was a “young lady who refused to be subdued and silenced,” Rev. Theresa Dear, AME minister and president of the DuPage County NAACP, told the press outside the church before the funeral service. Among other activities, Bland was a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We’ll be celebrating the life of Sandy Bland,” Dear said. “We have much to celebrate. We’re happy that she found her voice, found her purpose in social justice.”
People came to the funeral from all over the Chicago area. “I didn’t know her personally,” said Carl Pace of Crestwood. “I thought it was important to be here because I felt the pain of many across the country.”
George Wright, president of Prairie View A&M University, where Bland graduated with a degree in agriculture, spoke at the funeral. “She was one of thousands of youth from Chicago who chose to return to Texas, Mississippi and Alabama to continue their education,” he said. Bland was headed to the campus to accept a job offer when she was pulled over.
“They are painting my baby as shiftless, as a criminal,” her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said at the funeral. “That is not my baby. She had a purpose. It was to stop racial injustice.”
Her daughter “did not take her own life,” she insisted. “I want to know what happened to my baby, and I’m going to find out.”
The family and friends of Bland dispute the findings of the official investigation. They say that her spirits were high and that she was excited about starting her new job. They have called for an independent impartial investigation, and have ordered a second autopsy.
DuPage AME held a prayer walk of several hundred and a petition-signing event after their Sunday services July 19. A parallel service was held the same day at the Hope AME Church in Prairie View, Texas.
Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Bill Foster, who spoke at the funeral, are requesting a Justice Department investigation into her death. The Houston chapter of the NAACP has launched its own investigation. The group plans to request an independent autopsy and request police records to determine how she died while in a jail cell, said chapter President James Douglas.
Cleveland event gathers fighters against cop brutality
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