Sunday, May 28, 2017

A #SandraBlandAct that omits the #SandraBland story?

Our pal Fatima Mann has an essay at Tribtalk on the Sandra Bland Act (SB 1849), coming to grips with the reality that the bill "does not speak to the case of Sandra Bland" after the Texas Senate defenestrated provisions restricting arrests for non-jailable offenses. Give it a read.

Despite the notable omission of ignoring the key issues in the Sandra Bland tragedy, the bill has some good stuff in it. Indeed, if not for the heightened expectations created by attaching Bland's name to it, it would be hailed as more significant than it seems now in the context of her terrible case. Among the bill's remaining provisions:
  • Law enforcement "shall" make a "good faith effort to divert" suspects in mental health crisis or suffering from the effects of substance abuse to a treatment center.
  • Authorizes "community collaboratives" to seek grant-funded opportunities to provide services to homeless people, substance abusers, and the mentally ill.
  • Requires the Commission on Jail Standards to create rules on medication continuity requiring jail inmates' prescriptions to be reviewed by a qualified medical professional upon intake.
  • Requires TCJS to order an independent investigation by an outside law enforcement agency whenever someone dies in a Texas jail. (Between 2005 and 2015, Texas averaged 101 jail deaths per year, with a low of 83 and a high of 126, according to the Texas Justice Initiative.)
  • Orders TCJS to create a new examination for jail administrators.
  • Requires law enforcement officers to receive 40 hours of de-escalation training (some of which is great and some of which is apologia - will require oversight) and jailers must receive eight hours of mental health training.
  • Updates racial profiling data collection to include "warnings," whether physical force was used, and report whether contraband was discovered during roadside searches. (New data collection begins in 2018.)
One quibble: Grits would rather TCJS be given investigators to review the ~101 jail deaths per year themselves instead of appointing another law enforcement agency. Other local agencies won't typically have experience performing investigations in a correctional institution, which is a different kettle of fish from investigations in the free world. The reason they did it this way is to avoid a "fiscal note," but this may be something to revisit down the line when there's more black ink in the budget.

But in all, these are significant changes. Some of them, like the improvements to racial profiling data collection, have been sought unsuccessfully by advocates for many years. This explains why Ms. Mann adopted a glass-half-full attitude in assessing why this eponymic bill is worthy of support, even without addressing the issues which caused the death of its namesake:
Although the final version of the legislation, Senate Bill 1849, may not speak to Sandra’s death, it embodies her life of wanting to make a difference for people of African ancestry. She posted videos of herself speaking on issues people of the African diaspora faced in the United States. She recorded and posted herself speaking on the need for implementing policies that protect people in the community. Sandy used her voice to speak on the need for systemic change. ... 
The final version of this legislation embodies the spirit of Sandy’s life and the work she did to improve the community. Even though the bill does not address how she died, it does embody how she lived. She did not die because she had a mental health issue, she died because she should have never been detained for committing a non-jailable offense. 
Sandy spoke into her life that she would change the world. Her words inspired a bill that will create sustainable change.


Anonymous said...

Sandra Bland killed herself so focusing the bill on mental health training seems like a wise idea. Had the jailers accepted Bland's own admissions of mental health issues during their booking interview, they might have kept a closer eye on her. But given she was arrested for assaulting the trooper, no amount of spin is going to hide the fact that such an act will always be an arrestable offense, whether you believe it happened or not since it was off camera doesn't matter because the trooper doesn't cart her immediately to trial.

On another note, some of the larger policing agencies already include "warnings" in their racial profiling data and they have done so for years.

Sharon Cooper said...

GM! My name is Sharon Cooper and I'm one of the surviving older sisters of Sandra Bland as well as the family spokesperson. I'd love to connect with someone from the blog about the family's perspective on the Sandra Bland Act as it's our lived experience. Thanks in advance for your consideration!

Unknown said...

Where's the part about stopping false arrest and holding officers accountable who falsely arrest? Furthermore, what about holding officers accountable when they ASSAULT someone? The handling of this has always smacked of sexism (on top of racism) for jumping to "mental health" solutions instead of addressing this issue. I'm still not convinced she killed herself; and it is a longstanding victimblaming technique to call someone crazy -- especially if it is a female and a female of color!

Unknown said...

Almost anything from the Texas legislature is a victory these days. Perhaps this can serve as the camel's nose under the tent. More troubling to me is the de facto immunity granted law enforcement officers to shoot and kill unarmed citizens. Any reform addressing this must include adequately training law enforcement officers in the use of deadly force. So much killing by law enforcement officers appears to be limited to authoritarian regimes and the United States.

Anonymous said...

About time! No more political appointees!

REQUIRED. (a)  The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement shall
develop and the commission shall approve an examination for a
person assigned to the jail administrator position overseeing a
county jail.
       (b)  The commission shall adopt rules requiring a person,
other than a sheriff, assigned to the jail administrator position
overseeing a county jail to pass the examination not later than the
180th day after the date the person is assigned to that position.  
The rules must provide that a person who fails the examination may
be immediately removed from the position and may not be reinstated
until the person passes the examination.
       (c)  The sheriff of a county shall perform the duties of the
jail administrator position at any time there is not a person
available who satisfies the examination requirements of this
       (d)  A person other than a sheriff may not serve in the jail
administrator position of a county jail unless the person satisfies
the examination requirement of this section.

Anonymous said...

Cathy, laws already exist regarding false arrest and making false reports. The former trooper was indicted, fired, and will be tried in court. I watched the booking video and read the questionnaire they gave Sandra, both had indicators of mental health struggles which is why Waller County ended up paying so much.

As for shooting of unarmed people, I'm with Bruce. Too many policing agencies want to accept any warm bodies that apply and meet the bare minimum qualifications. Then they refuse to train them because it costs too much on the front end. The training they do get is often classroom training that does nothing to properly vet candidates for the positions or teach them the difference between a perceived threat and an actual threat, we all know how grand juries buy into the perception is the same idea.

Anonymous said...

What's up with all that threatening that occurred on the floor today? I'm sorry, but if I or any other common Joe threatened to shoot a fellow congress man - in the head - I'd be arrested immediately. What gives here? Is that the "special privilege" these guys get? DPS was there yet they didn't arrest anyone. Let's level the playing field folks??? Wow...

Anonymous said...

Texas has 6 of the 15 fastest growing cities in the US according to AOL. Do these people have any idea what they're getting into with this ledge at the helm?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Sharon Cooper, this is Scott Henson, the blog owner. You may reach me at Looking forward to hearing from you.

Anonymous said...

Please be aware that the settlement that Waller County and the Bland family reached really cost Waller County nothing other than insurance premiums. The full amount outside the normal deduction was paid thru insurance. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed in Waller county.

Anonymous said...

The first bullet point is something that is already required. The problem? Where are these treatment centers? Few communities in Texas have these. Even fewer (maybe none?) have the adequate number of beds needed on a daily basis. Many times, beat cops are forced to take people in crisis to nearest hospital/ER. In my experience, these facilities wait for the cops to be out of sight and then they cut the person in crisis loose without any medical records.

If the Lege is going to push another bill requiring the police to get people mental health treatment, then the Lege also needs to fork over the money to expand mental health treatment services in this state. Otherwise, we'll be doing what we've done since the '60s: making the county jail our mental health treatment center. And we all know how well that has worked out.

D007 said...

Exactly Anonymous. Texas needs more affordable (keyword) mental health and substance abuse treatment. The system has been absolutely gutted. If you have 5k to 6k just lying around to spend each month there is great help available. Yes, there are free programs, but they are bureaucratically​ very difficult to get into. Jumping through hoops and obtaining a stack of various documents is quite the challenge when in the midst of a substance abuse or mental health crisis. There is emergency detention. That lasts just long enough to "ensure" you aren't an immediate threat to yourself or others. It isn't really treatment.