Matt Taibbi: Sandra Bland Was Murdered:
So news broke yesterday that authorities in Waller County, Texas, have “full faith” that Sandra Bland committed suicide. They said there was “no evidence of a struggle” on the body of the 28-year-old African-American woman who was ludicrously jailed last week after an alleged lane change violation.
In related news, the Texas Department of Safety ruled that Brian Encina, the officer who arrested Bland, pulled her from her car, and threatened her with a Taser, had merely violated the state’s “courtesy policy.” The state said there was “no evidence” yet of criminal behavior on Encina’s part.
So barring something unexpected, we know now how this is going to play out in the media.
Many news outlets are going to engage in an indirect version of the usual blame-the-victim game by emphasizing the autopsy finding of suicide, questioning Bland’s mental health history, and by highlighting the reports of marijuana found in her system.
Beyond that, we can expect a slew of chin-scratching “legal analyses” concluding that while there may have been some minor impropriety on officer Encina’s part, the law governing police-motorist encounters is too “complicated” to make this anything more than a tragic accident.
Media scandals are like criminal trials. They’re about assigning blame. Because Bland may have technically taken her own life, the blame is now mostly going to fall on a woman with a history of depression and drugs, instead of on a criminal justice system that morally, if not legally, surely murdered Sandra Bland.
But nobody yet has dared to say Sandra Bland would still be alive today, if only she’d used her blinker. That’s a bridge too far even for TownHall.com types.
Suddenly even hardcore law-and-order enthusiasts are realizing the criminal code is so broad and littered with so many tiny technical prohibitions that a determined enough police officer can stop and/or arrest pretty much anybody at any time.
Bland was on her way to a new job at Prairie A&M university when she was pulled over for failing to signal when changing lanes, something roughly 100 percent of American drivers do on a regular basis. Irritated at being stopped, she was curt with Encina when he wrote her up. He didn’t like her attitude and decided to flex his muscles a little, asking her to put out her cigarette.
She balked, and that’s when things went sideways. Encina demanded that she get out of the car, reached for his Taser, said, “I’ll light you up,” and eventually threw her in jail.
Many editorialists following this narrative case suddenly noticed, as if for the first time, how much mischief can arise from the fact that a person may be arrested at any time for “failing to obey a lawful order,” which in the heat of the moment can mean just about anything.
If a cop wants to arrest you, he can arrest you. And very, very bad things can happen to you for which no one will ever be held accountable until and unless we drastically reform the way we police our society.