By: Larry Zhang, Senior Editor
“I will light you up.” Those were some of the words uttered by Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia after pulling over a 28 year-old African American Bland on July 10th for an apparent traffic violation. Three days later, she was found dead in her Waller County Jail cell. Since then, outrage has ensued all across the nation, where protests have already started demanding for answers.
Local authorities have stated that Bland committed suicide by hanging herself with a makeshift trash bag noose (one she apparently fashioned from her regulated jail cell), which was confirmed by autopsy reports. Bland’s immediate family, however, said, “The idea that she committed suicide is unthinkable.” Family attorney Cannon Lambert has disclosed that Bland was not depressed, on medication, or suffering from any mental illnesses at the time, but instead exuberant about the idea of starting a new job at her Texas alma mater, Prairie View A&M. Her death at the hands of police is currently being investigated as murder.
There appears to be a major discrepancy regarding the state of Bland’s mental health, however. Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith said that Bland indeed disclosed on jail intake forms that she had previously tried to kill herself, even though a “no” was checked on another form with the same questions. Alexandria Pyle, who was occupying the cell next to Bland, told media sources that Bland was emotionally stressed and unstable during her three days at the jail. This testimony seems to support the fact that Bland was indeed mentally distressed following her brutal arrest and confrontation.
“She was crying and I could barely understand her,” Pyle told KTRK local news. “She was like, ‘I’m not equipped for this kind of life, I don’t need to be here, I don’t deserve to be here, I didn’t do anything and it’s all messed up.’” Pyle also mentioned that Bland seemed especially distraught with her then situation, and that she was in a state of despair because one of her friends did not answer the phone, even after several calls.
“She found out her bond was $5,000, and no one—she was calling and calling—and no one was answering, and then after that she just broke down. She was crying and crying,” Pyle said.
Nonetheless, the confrontation between Encinia and Bland that escalated all of this, which was caught on police dashcam, was disheartening to watch. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Bland became “argumentative and uncooperative” during the stop. Encinia pulled Bland over for apparently failing to use her traffic signal. However, recently released video evidence now shows that Encinia apparently sped up suspiciously behind her, in which she responded by pulling over to allow the trooper to pass. Only after did Encinia cite her for the violation, even though she (and many others) claims she did nothing wrong by yielding to the speeding police cruiser.
What follows is even worse. The “conversation” grew physical after Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette.
“I am in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?” Bland questioned.
“You can step on out now,” Encinia replied.
When Bland refused after Encinia failed to give a reason why, things turned violent. The trooper attempted to drag Bland out of her car, much to her confusion. Bland repeatedly asked “why?” she was under arrest, to no avail. Encinia did not give any explanation other than “I am giving you a lawful order.”
When Bland refused to succumb to an arrest that she still could not fully comprehend, the trooper grappled with Bland until her head collided with the ground. It was later estimated that only after Bland asked 14 times about her arrest did Encinia respond with an answer. Bland can be later heard saying, “Oh you’re a real man now. You just slammed me, knocked my head in the ground.” A string of profanity followed, while additional police units arrived on the scene.
Three days after Encinia escorted Bland to the Waller County Jail, she was found “in her cell not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation,” said a statement from the Sheriff’s Office. Indeed, later autopsy reports confirmed that Bland had indeed hung herself in the manner of suicide.
But the answers don’t quite add up, at least for some. Why would a newly employed Bland want to take her own life, when success was just down the road? Why would Bland, who would almost certainly take such a case to court, jeopardize protesting peacefully against the law? “Based on the Sandy I knew, this is unfathomable to me,” said Sharon Cooper, a sister of Bland’s. “People who knew her, truly knew her, the depth of her, that’s unfathomable right now.”
Cooper later encouraged those on social media to continue their cries for justice via these same platforms of media, similar to how Bland spoke out against other incidents of police brutality. “Please keep tweeting, keep Facebooking and Instagraming,” Cooper said. “Keep utilizing the hashtag #JusticeforSandy … Keep hashtagging #SayHerName. The minute you forget her name you forget her character.” Recently, #SandraBland was trending as a hot topic on Twitter.
In her last words to the public, Bland thanked a man who recorded much of the violent confrontation. “Thank you for recording. Thank you. For a traffic signal. Slammed me into the ground and everything.”
Though the nature of Sandra Bland’s death continues to stir up controversy among the general public, one thing is certain: the police brutality targeting African Americans must stop. Because the way in which Texas State trooper Brian Encinia “handled” Sandra Bland, to many, may just have indirectly “murdered” her. Furthermore, the unjustified, and innocent, deaths must stop. The discriminatory behaviors against a group of people, who have been oppressed for so long, must stop. To make sure this happens, Americans will need to stand together against its tragic issue of racism, past and present.