Bland video emphasizes needless tragedy again
Like a painful memory suddenly brought to the surface, the surprise emergence of Sandra Bland’s cellphone video from her infamous arrest emphasizes how preventable this tragedy was. The young woman’s traffic offense was minor, the state trooper’s conduct was needlessly aggressive, and the confrontation did not have to end in arrest. On top of everything, Waller County jailers should have made sure that she — and every other inmate — would not commit suicide in their custody.
All of this was known, but the existence of Bland’s personal cellphone video of the 2015 encounter was not. Even though state officials maintain that the video was offered to the family’s attorneys, it is hard to imagine why they would not have immediately requested a copy of it. The 39-second video was finally released this week by Dallas television station WFAA, which obtained it in partnership with the nonprofit Investigative Network.
The belated release adds another layer to the state government’s awkward response to a case that rightly garnered national attention. The trooper in question, Brian Encinia, was fired but never charged with any crime in the case. By the strict letter of the law, he might not have committed one, but his overreaction could not be disputed. One of the most chilling scenes in Bland’s video is Encinia pointing his stun gun at her and shouting “Get out of the car! I will light you up!”
Bland’s shaky response sums up the futility of this confrontation:
“Really? For a failure to signal?” she asks plaintively. “You’re doing all of this for a failure to signal?”
Keep in mind, this was at the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. African-Americans were starting to push back on a nationwide scale against encounters like this, encounters that often cascade needlessly and end in arrest — or death.
Bland’s family is calling for her case to be reopened, but whatever happens in that regard, the Texas Department of Public Safety should do something else. It should make this video a part of every trooper’s training course, essentially serving as an example of what not to do.
People who are pulled over in traffic might understandably be upset, and their conduct might be a little testy. Law enforcement officers must be trained to expect this, and know when to be assertive and when to de-escalate a confrontation. If Trooper Encinia had learned this important lesson, Sandra Bland would still be alive.