On Monday, a grand jury in Texas declined to indict any law enforcement officers in connection with the July death of Sandra Bland, a Chicago-area woman police say committed suicide by hanging herself with a trash bag in a Waller County jail cell. The decision centered solely on the actions of the jail staff, and Special Prosecutor Darrell Jordan was careful to suggest other aspects of the case remain open and that jurors were poised to reconvene about them in January, as the New York Times reported.
The decision is obviously frustrating news for family members and activists who suspect foul play in Bland's death. At the very least, they'd like to see charges brought against Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia, the man who pulled Bland over in Prairie View, northwest of Houston, after she allegedly did not signal while changing lanes. The stop became contentious, and part of it is caught in footage from Encinia's dash cam, as well as via a bystander who filmed the arrest. "Thank you for recording," Bland tells the witness as she's hauled away in handcuffs. "Thank you. He slammed my head into the ground for a traffic signal."
Bland, who was 28, had recently moved to Texas from Illinois to accept a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. She was pulled over on July 10 and found dead in her cell the morning of July 13. Her death sparked outrage and a hashtag, #WhatHappenedToSandyBland, adding fuel to the fire of public anger over how people of color get treated by police.
Almost immediately after her reported death, Bland's friends and family began publicly challenging the official police narrative that she'd taken her own life. She'd just moved to Texas to accept a job, after all. Her future was, by most accounts, looking bright.
In the footage of the traffic stop captured on state Trooper Encinia's dash cam, he orders her out of the car after she won't put out a cigarette. She refuses, and things become physical. At one point he pulls out a stun gun, and threatens her. "I will light you up!" he says. The two go out of frame, but in the captured audio Bland can be heard arguing with the officer, becoming increasingly baffled and irate about the turn the routine traffic stop has taken.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" she asks indignantly while the trooper is placing her in cuffs. "...You're full of shit—full of straight shit. That's all y'all are is some straight scared cops. South Carolina got y'all bitch asses scared. That's all it is. Fucking scared of a female."
In the video, Bland repeatedly calls Encinia a "pussy."
The trooper has been on administrative leave since Bland's death, according to the Washington Post.
Bland's palpable frustration in the video becomes more clear in context. In January, she started recording a series of her own videos, called Sandy Speaks, about police brutality, apparently in the hopes they would start a dialogue about current events with her young nephews. In one of the videos, she becomes upset that more people don't seem upset about perceived injustices in the black community. "If you're black and not posting about black unification, get the fuck off social media," read a meme-like image Bland posted on April 11. "Right now we don't care about your birthday, your club pics, your dinner plates, your ass shots, twerk videos, model shots, or any other irrelevant ass shit not mentioned."
At Bland's funeral in Illinois, her mother Geneva Reed-Veal said her daughter had hoped to spend her life stopping racial injustice.
She never had a chance to do so.
Late Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said in a statement that Bland wouldn't have died in police custody "if she were a white woman," according to CNN.
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