Sandra Bland: Another Victim of the Drug Wars?
July 24, 2015
Sandra Bland, a young black woman, was driving through Waller County Texas in a car with Illinois license plates. Waller County is one of the routes that traffickers use to transport drugs from Mexico to Chicago. When Officer Brian Encinia saw Ms. Bland the possibility of a drug connection had to play into his decision to pull a U-turn, come up fast behind her, and then pull her over for changing lanes without signaling.
There is no reason to believe that had she signaled a lane change, Officer Encinia would have continued on his way. Once the officer had stopped Ms. Bland for a traffic violation, he spent several minutes running her information. Running background information for outstanding warrants or unpaid tickets, is not unusual, but is at the discretion of the officer. Apparently, Ms. Bland had aroused this officer’s suspicion. When no negative information came back, Officer Encinia began other actions to escalate the traffic stop so that he could probe Ms. Bland more intensively.
Many of the people who have viewed the dash cam video of the so-called traffic stop believe the reason for the escalation was to put an “uppity” black woman “in her place.” Another reason for the escalation, however, was to provide justification for a drug search. The subordination of a black woman is not mutually exclusive to escalating a traffic stop to justify a search for drugs.
The officer begins by saying to Ms. Bland, “are you OK, you seem upset?” Officer Encinia’s was attempting to draw Ms. Bland into conversation so that he could justify further action; police officers do not make casual conversation. By saying that she was not OK, Ms. Bland provided the predicate for Officer Encinia’s report to say “Ms. Bland indicated that she was not OK and I noticed the smell of ….” But, Officer Encinia could not smell alcohol or marijuana because Ms. Bland was smoking. Is that why it necessary to remove her from her car?
There are two reasons why finding drugs in Ms. Bland’s car was worth the effort expended by Officer Encinia. First, it would put a substantial feather Officer Encinia’s cowboy hat. Second, more importantly, asset forfeiture laws (Taken by Sarah Stillman, New Yorker, August 12, 2013) permit law enforcement agencies to seize property for the benefit of the local government. The insatiable hunger for drug money by law enforcement and pushers has corrupted policing in the U.S. and helped turn the police against too much of the public.
Besides having a graphic example of how police escalate minor infractions of the law into tragic stories of abuse, Sandra Bland will provide another example of how police defend the dubious behavior of fellow officers. Because Officer Encinia was trying to interdict drugs the law enforcement establishment will defend the actions of this officer. The statement by the Waller County authorities claiming that marijuana was in Ms. Bland’s system is the beginning of their attempt to damage her character by linking her to criminality and the drug culture. Ms. Bland died while in the custodial care of the Waller County Sheriff’s Department. Was she another victim of the drug wars?