Friday, March 03, 2017

'Sandra Bland Act' filed (updated)

Rep. Garnet Coleman unveiled his long-awaited "Sandra Bland Act" (HB 2702) yesterday at a press conference outside the Texas Supreme Court building. (I'd tweeted out a few photos of the event for Just Liberty.) See a summary of the bill's contents and initial MSM coverage:
Between this legislation and Rep. Senfronia Thompson's HB 2044, the two most significant police accountability proposals in the 21st century have been suggested this session.

MORE: It should probably be mentioned that the "Sandra Bland Act" includes reforms which don't derive specifically from her story. For example, reported the Texas Tribune, "Substance abuse would be added to the list of treatment services eligible for Department of State Health Services grant money that already supports public and private sector efforts to tackle homelessness and mental illness locally." But Sandra Bland wasn't intoxicated and didn't need drug treatment.

Similarly, "Counties would be required to develop a plan for how local mental health authorities, law enforcement groups and other community organizations will work with people experiencing homelessness, mental health crises and/or substance abuse." But there's no evidence Sandra Bland was mentally ill and her friends and family say it isn't true.

And while Grits wholeheartedly agrees that police should "make a 'good-faith effort' to divert people to treatment — instead of arresting them — if they are experiencing a mental crisis or substance abuse," that's not what was going on when Sandra Bland was arrested. There also wasn't any mental-health medication she was supposed to be taking that she didn't get, though under the bill, counties must "ensure inmates continue to receive medication they would be taking if they weren't in jail."

I support all these things, but they don't have anything to do with why Sandra Bland was arrested, incarcerated, or died in jail. It's not why her story has become a national touchstone, told and retold countless times both IRL and online, nor why activists insist people #SayHerName.

Other elements of the bill are more directly on point with Bland's story. Eliminating arrests for non-jailable offenses would have prevented the episode from ever launching in the first place; if that were the law, she'd have finished her cigarette, been given a ticket, and gone on her way, grumpy but alive.

This to me is the heart of what makes this the "Sandra Bland" Act, and it's an issue other bills have addressed as well. The reason Bland's name is known is the roadside video of her and Trooper Brian Encina. And what people saw on the video was a state trooper who expected Bland to defer and kowtow to his every whim, a woman in no mood to take crap from him, and an arrest made to punish her insolence more than to protect the public. That such an arrogant abuse of power resulted in her death is the crux of why Sandra Bland's name and image have become international icons.

Other parts of the bill also draw directly from her story. The presumption that nonviolent misdemeanor defendants will receive personal bonds unless a magistrate finds "good cause" for detention would have likely ensured she didn't spend the weekend in jail for want of $500. Requirements for deescalation training are on point, as is creation of a "County Inmate Safety Fund to help fund reforms for county jails that have inmate populations of 96 or fewer."

Grits strongly supports Coleman's bill, which includes many elements that seriously need to change. But it's not all about Sandra Bland. Indeed, it never was.


BexarKat said...

I believe none of these recommendations are inappropriate, however most of them are already required. There are some difficulties included such as not incarcerating someone on a "fine-only" charge. While on it's face it sounds reasonable, my experience tells me that when people go to jail (like Ms. Bland), the initial traffic stop generated into something more serious.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hmmm, BexarKat, if the trooper had never arrested Ms. Bland for failure to signal a lane change (after she refused to put out her cigarette), would the situation have become "more serious"? Seems to me that was on him and the change in the law would have prevented it.

Anonymous said...

That was just a contempt of cop arrest..Plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

That was just a suicide...Plain and simple.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It was both, 3:45 and 6:05, but there was nothing plain nor simple about it.

Anonymous said...

And if the trooper had removed her from her vehicle sooner, she wouldn't have been able to eat her stash, the presumed reason for all that pot found in her system as well as likely reason she became so agitated knowing her extensive prior record would have led to an arrest anyway. Labeling any legislation after such a frequent flier of the system, over 20 prior charges ranging from drugs to DWI to assaulting a cop to traffic, is a mistake.