Even for an aging White high school teacher in faraway Canada, thinking about the Sandra Bland incident is upsetting. Bland reminds me of a hundred young women that I’ve taught over the years. I could imagine any one of them in the same situation as Bland, following the same bizarre script.
When I watched the police video showing the young woman get pulled over, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a decent, intelligent young person. Yep. I liked her instantly. For whatever reason, she wasn’t prepared to suffer this fool of a cop. She had some “edge”. The video shows her to be articulate and intelligent; strong-willed. I like that in a young person.
Hers was a reaction that anyone might have after being chided for such a minor offence as failing to signal. She naturally felt a bit insulted. Hell, I would have felt the same way, and may well have reacted the same way, although it is unfathomable to me that as a middle-aged White man I’d ever be treated the way she was.
But I digress. The point is, the ticket having been issued, the incident should have been over. The police constable gave her the warning ticket, and in a rational world, everyone goes on their way.
But the cop didn’t stop there. He derisively asked Bland “What’s wrong?”, as if he expected her to be all smiles after getting a ticket. (Actually I have no idea what answer he expected, so bizarre was his behaviour.) But as a cop he must have known that whenever you have to address someone’s behaviour, you’re going to encounter a bit of attitude. After issuing the ticket, he should have simply left her to sulk. But this just wasn’t good enough for him.
After the cop asked Bland what was wrong, she told him quite specifically. Unless this was his first day on the job, the cop should have expected this. She wasn’t even disrespectful about it, conceding, “you have to do your job” (or something like that. I don’t have the stomach to watch the video again to get the quote right.) And then the cop escalated the tension in the situation, engaging in argument, and demanding Bland put out her cigarette. And when she refused, he dangerously escalated, illegally demanding she get out of the car.
Clearly, the cop wanted far more than to be able to uphold the law. He wanted unquestioning compliance. It was personal. It bugged him that this girl opposed him, and he wanted to humiliate her: put her in her place.
And really, it’s suspicious that he pulled her over in the first place. He went after someone for failing to use her signal light as she pulled over to let him pass. Can there be any doubt that he was looking to stir up trouble?
I can only imagine the awful feeling of vulnerability and trauma Bland must have felt as she was forced out of her car. What if she had been assaulted before? We all know (cops more than anyone) the high rate of assaults against women. And if this is what happens on a public road in broad daylight, I shudder to think what might happen behind closed doors in a jail.
I guess it’s important to recognize that this incident, as awful as it was, wasn’t the ultimate cause of Bland’s death. But looking at the incident on its own, and knowing it was the event that set off a three day jail term culminating in this poor woman’s death is just awful.
I don’t remember where Bland said she was going, but one flick of the wrist ignored; a signal light not engaged, and three days later she’s dead. It’s so senseless.