After having viewed the police dashcam video of the Waller County State Trooper who stopped Sandra Bland for failing to signal prior to a lane change, my assumptions were confirmed. The Texas State Trooper punished Sandra Bland—much like fired police officer Michael Slager punished Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina.
Both Sandra and Walter Scott had been stopped for minor traffic infractions; Walter's sin was an inoperable third tail light. Punishment is what happens when an overzealous police officer finds you guilty of "Contempt of Cop"—a term I coined for what happens when someone does not follow an "order" given by a police officer. Punishment sometimes ends in death.
As a retired 20-year veteran Los Angeles Police sergeant, I know firsthand that every police department has a small group of patrol officers who are always "trollin," hoping to stumble upon that "frank", which is police lingo for "felony arrest." You know the kind: the street cops who we sometimes refer to as "elephant hunters."
That's the officer who follows a car whose occupants just so happen to be two black men driving a Mercedes-Benz during the middle of the day with an inoperable third tail light. So the elephant hunter conducts a benign traffic stop, all the while praying to the "warrant god" that the driver has an outstanding arrest warrant or a marijuana joint or two in the car.
These types of hunting expeditions can be very exhilarating for the elephant hunter, particularly when it leads to a [bogus] arrest and an opportunity to put an unsuspecting male black "in the system." Yes, the district attorney will probably reject the criminal filing due to a lack of evidence—but you have just spent the entire weekend in jail and your car has been towed.
Then there's the elephant hunting opportunist who spots a vehicle being driven by a female black and continues to follow her just long enough to see her change lanes, on a virtually deserted stretch of road, without signaling. Time to see what this hunt will deliver.
Sandra Bland, by her own admission, stated she saw the police car behind her and changed lanes to give the officer a clear lane—probably not thinking that a signal was required. According to the videocam, there did not appear to be any other vehicles in the vicinity at the time of the lane change. Yet, the elephant hunter probably heard Vegas-style slot machines signalling a jackpot in his head. Time to activate the red lights on the patrol car.
As I watched the Sandra Bland traffic stop, I noticed several provocations by the trooper. First, after the trooper had finished writing his traffic citation—evidenced by the fact that he had presented it on a clipboard to Ms. Bland and requested her signature—he engaged Sandra in unnecessary chatter. At this point, the interaction is almost over. He asked if she was upset and why? Then he demanded that Sandra "put out" her cigarette. It is at this moment that the abuse under the color of authority officially began.
Ms. Bland was under no obligation to extinguish her cigarette and failing to do so did not warrant the trooper opening her driver's door and appearing to reach across her body as if to remove her seat belt. The trooper then quickly escalated the situation by threatening to "light you up". The trooper inferred that he was within his lawful authority when he yelled that he was giving "an order" and that Sandra was now "under arrest."
The problem here is that Sandra had not committed a crime, as evidenced by the trooper's unwillingness or inability to articulate exactly the reason for her arrest when asked repeatedly.
I am further troubled by what appeared to be a black female trooper responding as his back-up officer. She could be heard ordering Sandra to "stop resisting." First, as a black woman, I find it unconscionable that this black trooper supported obvious police misconduct on the side of the road by the male white trooper. Furthermore, any good partner knows, that if you witness things "going sideways"— you should step in and save your partner from a complaint by offering to deal with the individual to de-escalate the situation. This does not appear to have been done in this case. That's much like the black officer who stood by aimlessly while Michael Slager appeared to "plant" a taser near the body of Walter Scott after Slager had shot him eight times.
We now know that the Waller State Trooper, who has yet to be identified, falsified his arrest report of Sandra when he reported that he had her "exit the car to sign the ticket." Did this female trooper sign her name to that fabricated document? Did she corroborate the male trooper's sequence of events in his report?
And please don't start with the she "resisted arrest" and somehow deserved to be wrestled to the ground and manhandled. As police officers, we are not the ultimate authority. We have policies and procedures that we are mandated to follow. We are taught to de-escalate situations. And we should have learned not to take unruly, uncooperative citizens personally when confronted.
As a police officer, I don't have the authority to drag you out of your car because you seem agitated. As a police officer, I don't have the authority to compel you to "like" a traffic ticket. As a police officer, I don't get to beat you up and then charge you with assault on an officer. As a police officer, I can't kill you because you don't keep quiet, follow my order, or get out of a car.
This needs to stop.
Black & Blue