After Sandra Bland was found dead in a Texas jail cell following a controversial traffic stop with a white state trooper a bill was drawn up to protect other people from the same fate. Lawmakers have since stripped police reforms from the Sandra Bland bill and are pushing this weakened bill in a way that “painfully misses the mark,” according to Bland’s sister.
When Bland died in 2015 it set off a firestorm of protests. The 28-year-old Chicago woman was stopped near Houston for not signaling a lane change. She was then forcefully dragged from her car and found dead in her jail cell days later.
The first draft of the bill had sweeping police accountability and anti-racial profiling measures. It faced steep opposition from law enforcement groups as well as Republicans before being cut down. It now focuses on better training in jails and more mental healthcare access.
“What the bill does in its current state renders Sandy invisible,” said Sharon Cooper, Bland’s older sister. “It’s frustrating and gut-wrenching.”
Speaking on behalf of the entire Bland family, Cooper said the legislation currently “isolates the very person it seeks to honor” and makes compromises at the expense of the family. “It painfully misses the mark for us,” she stated.
Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman, the original bill sponsor, feels much the same way Cooper does. He says, however, that the bill still has value.
“I share her displeasure. This is not what any of us wanted,” Coleman said. “She should be upset and not pleased with the results because we all hoped for more.”
The original bill would have changed the face of policing in Texas by ensuring a high burden of proof was met before stopping and searching a vehicle and requiring counseling and training for officers who are known to racially profile drivers. It would have also banned arrests relating to offenses that are punishable by a fine.
According to Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire, this new version is more of “a mental health and awareness piece of legislation.”
According to official reports, Bland hanged herself in the Waller County Jail using a plastic bag three days after she was pulled over. The dashcam video from the incident shows Trooper Brian Encina ordering her out of the vehicle and drawing his stun gun while screaming, “I will light you up!”
Later in the video, Bland can be heard crying out in pain, saying the trooper was about to break her wrists. She had told one of her jailers that she had previously tried to commit suicide. Family, friends as well as activists have all questioned whether she killed herself, which adds to the frustration over the fact the bill has become one about mental health and not how those arrested are treated.