“Show me in American history where all lives mattered. Show me where there has been liberty and justice for all…” – Sandra Bland
AUSTIN-Changes could be over the horizon that will alter how police conduct traffic stops and jailers treat incarcerated citizens in the Lone Star State.
“The events leading up to Sandra Bland’s unnecessary jailing and tragic death sparked statewide and national outrage,” said District 147 State Representative Garnet F. Coleman of Houston. “The Sandra Bland Act aims to improve and correct Texas’ criminal justice system to make it better for all people and prevent future tragedies like the death of Sandra Bland.”
Coleman has served the people of District 147 in the Texas House of Representatives continuously since 1991. Throughout his years of service, Representative Coleman has earned a reputation as a diligent leader in the areas of health care, economic development and education. He is currently the Senior ranking member of the Public Health Committee as well as the Chairman of the County Affairs Committee. Representative Coleman also serves as a member of the House Select Committee for Mental Health.
Coleman filed House Bill 2702, and released his statements about findings in the bill, known as the Sandra Bland Act.
The Sandra Bland Story
On July 10, 2015 the civil rights advocate originally from Naperville, Ill. was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas, for not signaling a lane change.
Bland had recently moved to Texas for a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.
According to The Texas Department of Public Safety report, Bland was “argumentative and uncooperative” during the stop.
Texas Trooper Brian Encinia, asked Bland to put out her cigarette but she refused. According to the video, Encinia appears to threaten to use his Taser on Bland for being uncooperative, saying “I will light you up.”
She was ordered out of the car, arrested, and charged with assaulting a public servant. He also claimed that she had swung her elbows and kicked him in the shins.
In the video taken by a bystander, Bland can be heard saying that officers “slammed her head into the ground.”
After her arrest, Bland was taken to the Waller County Sheriff’s Office jail and held for three days. On July 13, she was found dead in her cell. Autopsy findings confirmed that Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman who was arrested in a routine traffic stop and later died while in police custody as a result of an alleged suicide.
Reports Reveals Racial Disparities on Traffic Stops
The House Committee on County Affairs of the 84th Legislative Session held several hearings during the interim to discuss the facts, circumstances, and policies that led to her death.
In the report, the Committee found that there are significant racial disparities in how the Texas Department of Public Safety treats Blacks when compared to Whites after they have been pulled over for a traffic violation.
Report Points to Need for De-Escalation Training
Other significant findings revealed that the Committee found that it would be beneficial to the public that all law enforcement would use de-escalation tactics in all interactions with the public. The officer escalating the routine traffic stop was the catalyst for the events that led to the death of Sandra Bland.
Implementing policies that better train officers to de-escalate interactions with the public will keep us all safer and prevent future tragedies.
Committee Endorses Need to Increase Personal Recognizance Bonds
According to Coleman, Sandra Bland was arrested for a fine-only offense.
“It is not logical and potentially unconstitutional to send someone to jail for an offense that carries no penalty of jail time,” he said. “If these policies would have been in place, there is good reason to believe Sandra Bland would still be alive”
The committee found that county jails are also spending millions of dollars every year combined to house these inmates who have yet to be proven guilty.
Hence, this Act will increase diversion by creating policies to encourage it, and supporting funding for places where people can be diverted to and additionally, create policies aimed at properly increasing the use of personal recognizance bonds
“Sandra Bland, like many people currently in jail waiting for their trial, are unable to pay their bail,” he said. “Many of these individuals pose no risk to the community nor are they a flight risk.”
Call for Better Jail Training and Policies
The committee found that Sandra Bland died in jail because our jails are not as safe as they could be, and that people who have yet to be proven guilty and even those proven guilty should not be subject to the dangers found in our jails.
To address that issue this, the act requires improved training for our jailers, requires jails to have medical personnel present and access to a mental health professional either in person or through telemental health at all times, and automated electronic sensors to ensure accurate cell checks.
It also creates a grant program to ensure that all County jails will be able to afford these necessary changes.”
Improved Mental Health Focus
Coleman said the committee found that far too many people are being brought to jail and remaining there unnecessarily.
It appears that current policies of diverting people who are in crisis and running afoul of the law either due to their mental health or substance abuse would be better served being diverted into treatment, rather than cycled through the jail system and released with the same problems that caused them to get arrest.
The committee also found suspending medical benefits upon detention instead of terminating them to ensure there are not gaps in treatment would help elevate this revolving door problem.
Changes at Department of Public Safety
The committee also said there is reason to believe that Sandra Bland and many other people are still being stopped for an underlying pretext.
Though pre-textual stops are not the policy of DPS, Texas law needs to be strengthened to ensure that it does not happen at DPS or any other law enforcement agency in Texas.
The Sandra Bland Act does this by explicitly outlawing the practice of pretext stops, as well as outlawing consent searches, and raising the burden of proof needed to both stop and search vehicles in Texas.
Coleman noted that the committee also found that the way DPS records and presents the data needs to be improved.
“I stood with Rep. Garnet Coleman, as he announced his historic new legislation, the ‘Sandra Bland Act,” said Representative Shawn Thierry is a Democrat from House District 146, which encompasses greater Southeast and Southwest Houston. “Change does not occur overnight, but if passed, I believe the Sandra Bland Act will create lasting institutional change and ultimately save lives.”
According to Thierry, the bill provides the opportunity for legislators to address how law enforcement and corrections personnel deal with racial disparities, mental health of inmates, and departmental accountability.”
Others supporting the bill include Representatives Rafael Alonzo, Yvonne Davis, Dawnna Dukes, Helen Giddings,Victoria Neave, Ron Reynolds Toni Rose and Tomas Uresti
“This Act will address these problems by strengthening Texas’ racial profiling law, as well as ensuring that the data Texas collects is robust, clear, and accurate,” he said. “These changes will ensure the rights of all are better protected”
By: Darwin Campbell