The politically-charged death of activist Sandra Bland while in police custody took yet another disturbing turn when dashcam video of her arrest was released by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Bland was pulled over on July 10 for failing to signal a lane change, and the traffic stop escalated into a forcible arrest. On July 13, Bland was found dead in her cell at the Waller County Jail, allegedly hung by a plastic bag. Thanks to an aggressive social media campaign and the suspicions of her family, Bland’s death is now under investigation.
However the investigation of her death turns out, it is worth noting, from the start, that every suspicion people have about Sandra Bland’s alleged suicide is warranted. It was warranted when cellphone video emerged featuring the use of force during Sandra Bland’s arrest, it was warranted because she was a #BlackLivesMatter activist, and it was warranted because, as her family has pointed out, Sandra Bland was starting a new life and a new job.
With the release of this dashcam footage, all of those suspicions are amplified by the obvious discrepancies between Texas state trooper Brian Encinia’s arrest report and what happens in the video, and by the fact that the video itself was rather obviously and poorly edited.
Here’s the full video of Sandra Bland’s traffic stop, which runs about 52 minutes:
Journalist Ben Norton has posted a detailed rundown of the really obvious edits to the video, but essentially, there’s about a ten-minute span, beginning at around the 25-minute mark, in which the actual video has been replaced by looped and copied clips from elsewhere in the tape. Those edits are now also under investigation, but their mere existence will justifiably color perceptions of the entire investigation. The edits were so poorly concealed that whoever did them either counted on being able to blame them on a technical glitch if they were ever noticed, or perhaps used some sort of automatic loop-and-patch software, and didn’t bother to check the final result.
Whatever the case, this throws into doubt any video evidence, like that of the hallway outside Sandra Bland’s cell in the time leading up to the discovery of her alleged suicide, into doubt. There may never be a way to fully allay those suspicions.
But even if Sandra Bland’s death was, indeed, a suicide, there is little doubt that it was her arrest that precipitated it. Despite what her family says, it is possible that as Sandra Bland watched her car being towed away after the stop, as she sat in jail contemplating the $5,000.00 bond she needed to raise in order to get out and start her new job and new life, and the up to ten years and $10,000.00 fine she faced, as her entire life had just turned on a dime, that she succumbed to despair.
Whether Sandra Bland killed herself, or died as a result of hidden injuries from her arrest, or by some other since-covered-up means, the dime that her life turned on was sickeningly trivial, and familiar. Like Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the NYPD, Sandra Bland’s life ended over a cigarette.
In addition to the many inconsistencies between the video and the police report, Trooper Encinia’s explanation for the arrest doesn’t add up, since Sandra Bland was already cuffed and under arrest when he says she prompted the arrest. In fact, as the video shows, he told her she was under arrest while she was still in her car, because she was “refusing a lawful command.”
The stop escalated to an arrest because he asked her to get out of the car, and he asked her to get out of the car because she had the nerve to ask why she had to put out a cigarette that she was smoking in her own car. Here’s video of that encounter up until the point Bland is put into the police car, including Trooper Encinia’s threats to “light you up” with his Taser:
In his police report, and in the phone call he staged with a supervisor during the edited portions of the dashcam video, Encinia claims that he only asked Bland out of the car so she could “safely” sign the warning he was about to give her, but in case the video doesn’t make it obvious enough that this is false, let’s take a look at how Trooper Encinia “safely” completed a written warning for a speeding stop right before he stopped Sandra Bland:
The only difference between stops, aside from the fact that the earlier motorist was apparently not smoking a cigarette or carrying proof of insurance, was that Sandra Bland’s car was actually pulled over with an extra lane for a “safety” buffer. Sandra Bland didn’t even flat-out refuse to put out her cigarette, but just for daring to question the request, Trooper Encinia escalated the stop into an arrest that resulted, ultimately, in her death. Apparently, to police, “All cigarettes matter.” Black lives? Not so much.
Update: The Texas Department of Public Safety is blaming the apparent edits on a technical glitch.