My friend, Kent Harrop, wrote the following editorial on his blog about the Sandra Bland incident. I encourage you to read it before you read my response. You can find it here, https://greenpreacher.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/a-moral-emergency-the-death-of-sandra-bland
The issues raised about the circumstances surrounding the arrest and subsequent suicide of Sandra Bland are genuine. Racism and the difference in treatment of black people by many, but not the majority, in law enforcement is a fact in this country. Yet, having watched the entire video, I am struck by the fact that if the woman signed the ticket and fought the issue in court, this would not have ended the way it did.
I am not trying to explain away the officer’s actions or blame the victim, but we need to look at the incident in context and as a whole. Since we lack all of the facts at this point, a fair and complete analysis is impossible.
Nevertheless, we certainly can examine the incident as it underscores the issue of racism. Clearly, racism is a scourge in this country. It is rampant, insidious, and destructive. It is difficult to understand how people come to hold these beliefs, unless we glimpse into their past. Racism is a learned behavior.
I disagree with Ty Burr’s words mentioned in Kent’s article, ‘This is the tale of two stories, the official version and the one we can see with our own eyes’.
There is only one version recorded on video. Our reaction is a combination of our own perceptions, experiences, and opinions. What happened in the incident is there for all to see and hear. What transpired after, and why she was in jail for three days, remains unclear. The full investigation is not complete and there should not be a rush to judgment.
Up to the point the Officer decided to remove her from the car, he was polite and professional. Once he asked her to step from the car, she contributed as much to escalating the situation. Like it or not, we bear a responsibility to act in a civil manner despite what we may perceive as someone else’s failure to do so.
Assuming for the sake of argument the officer was wrong does not justify resisting arrest. It is not in the best interest of our society to think such resistance is acceptable; it is too susceptible to a range of interpretation.
None of us have seen the officer’s report. None of us know the reason for his deciding to remove her from the car. However, an officer can ask someone to step from the vehicle if he or she has concerns about safety, both the officer’s and the driver’s.
There is no constitutional right to resist arrest. If the officer says you are under arrest, then you are under arrest. There are a number of legal avenues to pursue if an arrest is unlawful, through the courts. That is the proper place, not in the street.
No one is in any position at this point to determine if the officer was justified. The reports of the stop and the reasons behind officer’s actions are still not public. If the agency deserves any criticism, it is in its failure to make those reports immediately available. We have seen this time and time again. Delay adds to the conspiracy mentality. That arrest report, unquestionably a public document, should have been made public.
I do know that officers deserve the benefit of the doubt during the incident to protect themselves. Once the matter is in the court, they can then be held to a high standard to justify their actions.
The issue of Bland being arrested for a minor traffic offense is not accurate. She was not arrested for the motor vehicle infraction; that was the reason the officer stopped her. She was arrested for failure to comply with what appeared to be a lawful request to get out of the car. That is all we have at this point. Why did he do that? What was his justification? All legitimate questions. The officer bears the burden of proving it in court, detailing the probable cause, and validating the arrest. The street is not the place to argue that.
Since the medical examiner ruled the death a suicide, I can only assume there were other issues in that woman’s life we are not privy to. Having had hundreds of encounters on the street with people in all sorts of circumstances, I know officers develop a sense for people that are in a stressful or emotional state. From what I saw on the video, the officer’s initial conversation was polite, professional, and geared to evaluate the person. Doing that is critical to surviving as an officer.
Did Bland pose a threat? Probably not. Should the officer have demanded she put out the cigarette? No. Yet it doesn’t alter the fact that Bland contributed to the escalation. In her own words, “I can’t wait to get to court.” She should have, she would be alive and, perhaps, in the near future cashing a check for a violation of her rights.
None of the above alters the fact that on a daily basis in this country, Police Officers target minorities. Not all officers, not even a majority. However. if even one officer targets a person based on race that is a crime. There is much room for open and honest discussion of this issue. Much room for demanding change within our society.
It starts with education. Learning that despite differences in appearance or cultural norms or social standing we are all human beings entitled to fair and equitable treatment.
It is important we evaluate incidents once we have all the evidence. To do so prematurely leads to misinformation or worse. Recall the Michael Brown “Hands up don’t shoot” phenomenon that caused so much destruction. It did not happen the way it was initially portrayed, and the truth got lost in the media storm.
Knowing the full story, recognizing the deleterious affect racism has on us all, and using the courts to right all wrongs is the only way to deal with these incidents with any hope of eliminating them.