Sandra Bland Committed the Crime of Arrogance

Sandra Bland, Officer Encinia, Sandra Bland traffic stop, Sandra Bland death, racism in America, police violence, police brutality

When Texas trooper Brian Encinia pulled what appeared to be his Taser device and screamed “get out of the car or I will light you up,” he was no longer an officer of the law; he was an out-of-control bully who was furious that the woman behind the wheel was not intimidated, would not cower under his absolute power over her, and had the audacity to speak to him in a what he considered a disrespectful way.

I have a lot of confidence. I don’t suffer from poor self-esteem and I don’t feel I am somehow less than anybody else. I will not be pushed around without a response. And I resent people I don’t know telling me what to do.

I am Sandra Bland all over again.

Sandra Bland is dead today because she shared at least some of these same character traits. When she was stopped by a police officer who she believed was the cause of her minor traffic infraction, she wasn’t presenting him with a happy face. She said the officer was tailing her. It made her nervous, so she changed lanes to let him pass. Instead, he pulled her over for not using her turn signal when she changed lanes. She, in fact, was pissed off.

I would be, too. And if it had been me who was in that car on that day in Texas, I might be dead today.

On Tuesday, July 21, 2015 former NYPD detective Harry Houck said the following about the Bland arrest:

“The whole thing here is that she was very arrogant from the beginning, very dismissive of the officer, alright?”

Substitute the word “arrogant” with the word “uppity,” and we are right back in the Jim Crow era. Nothing but total deference would do when a black person, male or female, encountered any white person. An “uppity nigger” was considered fair game for discipline, ranging from a good tongue-lashing all the way to death.

Police officers are charged with enforcement of the law. There is no law on any official books against arrogance. There is no law against declining the officer’s request to extinguish one’s cigarette when inside one’s own car. There is no law against “having an attitude.”

When Texas trooper Brian Encinia pulled what appeared to be his Taser device and screamed “get out of the car or I will light you up,” he was no longer an officer of the law; he was an out-of-control bully who was furious that the woman behind the wheel was not intimidated, would not cower under his absolute power over her, and had the audacity to speak to him in a what he considered a disrespectful way.

If we are ever to fix the broken relationship between the police and black people, there are a few facts of life the police need to understand.

Black children are raised differently than their typical white counterparts. The lingering legacy of slavery continues to this day to elicit a fury against the dehumanization of black people, often in the form of assertiveness, sometimes aggressiveness, when challenged by an authority figure, especially the police. The police represent to many black people the official, modern iteration of Jim Crow and slavery itself. Behind the sanction of a badge and a gun (and a Taser, nowadays) a police officer feels free to treat black people as if they are less than human.

Black parents teach their kids to stand up for themselves and refuse to be bullied. At the same time, the parents of black males, especially, are taught to keep their mouths shut when stopped by the police. Say nothing, do what s/he says, take your ticket or your warning in silence and be on your way. But body language is more difficult to stifle. Anger shows up in the black citizen’s posture, her eyes and her tone of voice, thus defeating the warnings and actually reflecting the contradictory teachings from their parents.

Sandra Bland is dead because the officer failed to de-escalate the situation, as he was supposedly trained to do in the academy. Instead Officer Encinia escalated the situation, baiting Ms. Bland by questioning her about her negative body language and asking her to put out her cigarette for his personal comfort. From that point on, this was no longer about the traffic stop. This was no longer about a failure to signal a lane change. This was about anger and outrage. Encinia was screaming with rage when he threatened Sandra Bland with “lighting her up.” How dare this woman disrespect me?! How dare she audaciously talk back to me, a man behind a badge and weapons?!

Like it or not, much of the behavior from black suspects or detainees that try the patience and override the training of authority figures in America has been systematically created by the authority agencies they represent. Malcolm X would say “the chickens are coming home to roost.”

I should be forgiven if I don’t believe Sandra Bland committed suicide in her jail cell on the third day of her ridiculous incarceration. I should be forgiven for not taking at face value a videotape from Encinia’s dash cam that is clearly edited, but is described by officials as “a glitch” in the tape. I should be forgiven for believing this is another heinous example of the problem we black people have with police officers and the criminal justice system. I have volumes of precedent upon which to base my opinion, going back as many as 400 years.

Dr. Joy DeGruy, a professor and internationally renowned lecturer on matters of race, culture and education, named her 2005 book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. “From the beginning of American chattel slavery in 1619, until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, Africans were hunted like animals, captured, sold, tortured and raped. They experienced the worst kind of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse. Isn’t it likely that many slaves were severely traumatized? Did the trauma and the effects of such horrific abuse end with the abolition of slavery?”

If the crimes against black Americans had actually ended with the Thirteenth Amendment, it is possible, maybe even probable, that the effects of slave trauma would have slowly dissipated by now. But the crimes didn’t end. Black Codes and Jim Crow laws replaced slavery for another 100 years. As evidenced by the recent murder of nine black people studying the Bible in their church, and by the lengthening string of black homicides by police officers, the violations continue. Combine today’s traumas with the crimes of the past, the effects of which are passed from generation to generation, and we have a people who are injured and manifesting those injuries in behaviors that whites and authority figures of all hues find reprehensible.

In his new book, Between the World and Me, author Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the following observation when he discusses the frequent response from white people about police killings of black people, “what about black-on-black” crime? Coates writes:

“The killing fields of Chicago, of Baltimore, of Detroit, were created by the policy of Dreamers, but their weight, their shame, rests solely upon those who are dying in them. There is a great deception in this. To yell “black-on-black crime” is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.” Dreamers is the word Coates employs to describe the white majority’s pursuit of the American Dream.

Like it or not, much of the behavior from black suspects or detainees that try the patience and override the training of authority figures in America has been systematically created by the authority agencies they represent. Malcolm X would say “the chickens are coming home to roost.” The society of today is reaping the harvest from the crimes against black humanity, both historical and current.

I have only been stopped for a traffic violation once in my life. The officer involved had been parked in a dark corner near a traffic light, waiting to pounce upon people who ran the red light. The officer who stopped me happened to be black. My ticket was issued because, although the light was yellow when I entered the intersection, it turned red before I reached the other side. Did I feel set up? Yes, I did. Was I annoyed? Yes, I sure was. Did I let is show? Only in my body language for I held my tongue and spoke only when asked a direct question. This officer did not bait me with questions about the sullen expression on my face. He didn’t ask me to step out of the car, although he could have, apparently legally. If he had, I would have resisted. Why? Because there have been numerous incidents of men posing as officers who are bent on snatching and raping women.

On a different night with a different officer, it is very possible I could be dead today. Whether Sandra Bland committed suicide, as alleged by authorities, or she was killed as a result of her rough arrest and/or the negligence of the jail staff, the responsibility for her death lies squarely with Brian Encinia’s decision to treat Ms. Bland as something less than human.

We can’t fix the problem if we don’t acknowledge the problem.

Lezlie Bishop, 70, is a mixed-race woman from the Midwest who has dedicated her retirement years to fighting racism and to turning non-racists into anti-racists. She collaborated on a book, Talking to the Wall, and is currently teaching a weekly seminar on American Racism at her local Senior Center.

Image via Wikipedia/CC License

  • Seer Kennel

    Excellent article. Going to wing right over the heads of many, of course, who persist in refusing to see that problem we all need to acknowledge, but by d*mn, all we can do is keep trying.. we have to keep trying.

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