Let’s not, at this point, get into whether it was straight suicide, heavily encouraged and assisted suicide, or outright murder. What if the prisoner had made bail, borrowed some money to get her car out of hock, and started her new job as scheduled?
What if Sandra Bland had not died? She might have made a video to talk about her jail experience. The bystander who recorded a minute of the needlessly brutal arrest might still have posted it on YouTube. Sandra might have contacted an attorney willing to take on her case pro bono, or an organization eager to fund the fight against such an obvious example of false arrest, assault, battery, abuse of police power, entrapment, stalking, deprivation of civil rights under color of law, and probably several other criminal acts.
Except, if she were alive today, you and I might not be aware that such out-fucking-rageous shit is going on. If she weren’t dead, not nearly as many people would be hearing about the Gothic horror story that is Waller County.
The truth to hang on to, and the truth that the sacrifice of Sandra Bland’s life now shines public attention upon, is that from the jump, EVERYthing about that traffic stop was bollocks. Based on how pleasant Trooper Encinia was to the person he pulled over just before encountering her, a lot of people want to believe that all Sandra’s pain was her own fault. About his interaction with the woman in the red car, three talking points.
Nice cop, not
First, he wasn’t that nice, really. Okay, so he says superficially polite words, and even chuckles a bit, and helpfully reminds this driver to ask her dad to send the proof of insurance. As he gives her the paperwork and her license back, here’s the dialogue:
“You okay? This is a warning. There is no fine, there is no penalty, you just need to follow the posted speed limit, okay? What year are you here at school?”
“Sophomore? You here for summer school? Taking a lot of classes?”
“Just two? Here’s a copy of the warning. There’s no fine, no penalty, okay, and there’s your drivers license. Be careful, all right?”
The trooper pushed a boundary in that traffic stop, too, but the driver was too young and/or intimidated to realize it. Now, this may sound bitchy as hell, but “You okay?” is a question that really did not need to be asked, unless the sophomore was going into labor or choking on her chewing gum. What’s she gonna say? “To tell you the God’s honest truth, I’m just a little nervous about the kilo of cocaine in the spare tire.” No. The only correct answer is “Yes sir, I’m fine. Sir.”
How she is, is none of his business, and it’s probably none of his business what grade she’s in, either. Or how many credit hours she signed up for. This is such a sore spot because the country apparently is crawling with cops who practice a side career as rapists. Even men feel uneasy when overly familiar cops engage wives, girlfriends and sisters in cozy roadside chats. A briskly businesslike police encounter can be coped with. A schmoozing session is creepy. Let’s have cops who carry out these procedures with precise legality and correctness, and zero personality. Not some two-faced nutjob who’s all jovial one minute and turns, on a dime, into a raging psychotic.
The racial quandary
Second, some people claim that previous motorist was white, which gets automatic politeness. Maybe she was white, and maybe that’s why. But an online commentator who lives in the area wrote in to say that being white had never saved her from illegitimate traffic stops based on fabricated reasons, just like what happened to Sandra Bland.
Others say that racism played no part here, because when the trooper followed Sandra’s car from behind, there was no way to determine her race. But that claim doesn’t hold up. Before he made a U-turn to follow Sandra, she had first driven by him going the other way. You can tell the color of a driver’s skin from across the width of a road. Also, it is said that there was a Black Lives Matter decal on her car. No doubt the trooper could identify one of those from a mile away.
Also, if the sophomore in the red car was black, it doesn’t matter, because even the most rip-roaring white racist is not consistently and eternally abusive to every person of color that he or she encounters all day long. Universal, 24/7 racism would be exhausting. White privilege grants itself the leeway to pick and choose. In the past, the worst plantation owner might have a soft spot in his heart for a cute baby, or for the toothless old auntie who wiped his butt when he was a baby himself. For a hundred years, every white businessman and captain of industry had a gruff fondness for his favorite Pullman porter or shoeshine “boy.”
In addition, some people say that white racism was not a factor, because Trooper Encinia is Hispanic. Evidently, they think it’s impossible for Hispanics to be prejudiced against blacks. (Just ask George Zimmerman, killer of Trayvon Martin, about that theory.) And others say the ancestors of many Hispanics were from, like, Spain – duh – and white as anybody. So despite his surname, Encinia is de facto white. Meanwhile, innocent white people don’t like to be blamed for the misdeeds of racist Latinos.
Bottom line, the race of the woman in the previous traffic stop is totally irrelevant, and actually, so is the race of the trooper. Here’s why.
Why it doesn’t matter
Because the third thing is, some very disturbed individuals are capable of concealing their monstrous aspects from all but one other person, or a few others. Some of Trooper Encinia’s co-workers say he’s a nice guy. And he did not unleash his worst self on the young woman in the red car. But so what? The fact that he didn’t go off on her means nothing.
A special kind of hell is inhabited by wives who constantly hear, “Your husband is so nice!” and “You’re so lucky!” when they know what kind of demon removes its mask behind closed doors.
In many households. one child is consistently singled out for abuse, often of the most horrendous kind, while the other kids are unharmed. Possibly, even the perpetrator of the abuse doesn’t understand why.
That asshole in Cleveland who kept three women locked up for years got along with his neighbors. When Ann Rule worked at the suicide hotline with serial killer Ted Bundy, she thought he was a sweetheart. Anyone can call to mind the example of a seemingly mild-mannered but occasionally explosive maniac. If not, he or she probably is that person. The point is, you never really know.
A true misogynist might give a woman something, but never because it is her due – only as a reward for pleasing him, a sign of his favor. A misogynist father will not grant a daughter’s wish because it’s reasonable, but because she will owe him a debt of gratitude. A misogynist boss will not give a woman a raise because she earned it, but only to demonstrate what a swell guy he is. A misogynist husband will not give his wife something for the sake of fairness, but with the expectation of having his ass perpetually kissed. A misogynist cop will not release a woman because he was wrong to stop her in the first place, but to demonstrate what a big-hearted softie he is.
Selective misogyny is part of the bro culture. There are so many potential victims, the woman-hater has the luxury of being able to pick and choose. When Encinia stopped the sophomore, she was properly cowed. She was Daddy’s good little girl and he rewarded that. Even if she was black his hostility was, for whatever reason, not aroused. Maybe she had chemically straightened hair, like a decent Negro ought to. For whatever reason, her very existence did not trigger the trooper’s bedrock hatred. But when he encountered Sandra Bland, something about her threw him into an altered state.
There could be another reason why the female in the red car escaped unscathed. Knowing he had more important fish to fry, Encinia was saving his energy. A wild theory has been going around, suggesting that Sandra Bland was personally targeted.
Paul Spector mentioned this possibility, as did various online commentators. No doubt the local cops like to familiarize themselves with newcomers and make projections about what to expect from them. Someone, aware that a known activist had rolled into town and planned to stay, could have decided that Sandra Bland needed to be put on notice right from the git-go. Law enforcement might have been waiting for a chance to teach a lesson about her “place” and the humility appropriate to it, before she could have a chance to gain too much self-confidence.