Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Did Sandra Bland Cause Her Own Death?!?

[Editor's Note: You will probably not like this post. I'm cool with that. Before proceeding, note that I don't see this arrest and what happened to Bland in jail as necessarily being related either. They could very well have been, but we don't know that and will not until more information about that incident is released. And I'm not blaming her for her own death. If you walk away from this with that assumption, then either my writing has badly missed its mark or you didn't read it with an open mind. I'm talking about the arrest itself, not whatever might have happened (or not happened) in jail.]

My Pops always told me that in life, there are 5 cent issues and there are 5 dollar issues. How you respond to a given situation is, or rather should be, directly attributable to how great your offense was with the given situation.

People die every day over 5 cent issues. A stepped on shoe. Being cut off in traffic. A wayward stare at a woman. Perceived disrespect. Things that don't take food off of your table or money out of your pocket. Things that, in the grand scheme, simply aren't that important.

I thought about this last night when I watched the video of the roadside incident involving Sandra Bland and a police officer, which lead to her being jailed, and subsequently being found dead in her cell.

[Editor's Note: Before commenting on this post, try watching the video in its entirety (or at least to the 30 minute mark) with an open mind. If you can't do that, please just don't comment.]

A few things immediately stick out. The video begins (perhaps intentionally) with the cop completing a routine stop with another woman. He seems cordial, gives her a warning for what appears to be a missing insurance card or something of the sort, asks her if she's in college, etc. It seems like a fairly pleasant exchange to me. I have no idea whether the woman in the car is black, but given the location of this incident (Prairie View, TX) and the fact that there's only one college there, I think it's fair to assume she might be black.

A few minutes later, the very same cop gets back in his car, sees a silver car make a right turn at a stop in front of him, then makes a U-Turn, follows this motorist, and pulls her over after she changes lanes without signalling. I have no idea why he followed this woman, then pulled her over when she probably just did what 90% of us do when a cop's suddenly behind us (move over and pray they keep driving past). The cop clearly was either preying on her because she was black, or because he had a quota of bullsh*t stops he needed to meet. I can't call it either way.

Eventually, the cop engages the motorist, runs a check, and comes back to the car. It seems like he is going to give her the same treatment as the prior driver: a warning. But this driver (Bland) appears to engage the cop far differently than the prior driver. We don't know what that prior driver was initially pulled over for, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the cop pulled that very same "follow and pull over for some random bullsh*t" tactic.

So here's where the "Is this a 5 cent or 5 dollar issue?" question comes into play.

To me, this is a 5 cent issue. The cop's clearly in the wrong for pulling her over. She's got every right to be upset about this. But how she responds is literally the difference between life and death.

Bland could have noted that this cop was being a jerk, made note of his badge number, and filed a formal complaint when she got home. A person randomly pulling people over for nothing is clearly not someone you're going to win a philosophical debate on the merits of community policing with. You will not win a debate with a man who has a gun and a badge.

Being combative with a cop over what's essentially a moving violation isn't the way to handle something this trivial. You certainly have a right to be angry at being singled out for nothing. But you use the proper channels to express this anger. Resisting arrest is not such a channel.

None of this absolves the cop of his wrongdoing. He doesn't deescalate the issue. He acts petty, asking Bland if she has a problem, to put out her cigarette, to not press record on her phone (something you should do as you're being pulled over, or while the cop is running your tags). He's a terrible policeman and a terrible person.

You will not win an argument with a terrible person with a gun and badge. I repeat. You will not win. Take the "L". Get out your feelings, note the man's badge number and name, and file a report. If the department disregards the report (which is entirely likely) the net-net is still the same on that side of the equation: an asshole cop.

But you'd have one less felony.

Question: If you were put in this very same situation, would you have handled it exactly as Bland did? Be honest.

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