Like most who've been following the Sandra Bland story, I'd been waiting for the release of the official dashcam recording of the events leading up to Sandra Bland's arrest. I happened to be sitting in my car, inching along Wilshire Boulevard listening to NPR, when I heard Steve Inskeep, host of NPR's Morning Edition, announce that Texas officials had released the video.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Sandra Bland—a young African American woman, was pulled over by Texas trooper Brian Encinia for failing to signal before making a lane change. She didn't run a red light, or fail to signal before making a turn. She wasn't speeding or driving erratically. With the exception of the trooper's car, Ms. Bland's car appeared to be the only car on the road for as far as the eye could see. In fact, she claimed that the only reason she changed lanes was because she believed the trooper wanted to pass her - a plausible assertion after viewing the video. Yet she was pulled over for committing as routine a traffic violation as they come. But what happened next was anything but routine.
Up until the release of the dashcam video, the only other recording was captured by a bystander who was standing a considerable distance away from the incident. What could be seen was two troopers who appear to be holding Bland down on the ground, feet away from the car she was driving. The audio portion of the recording contains what is likely Bland’s voice yelling that Encinia had slammed her head into the ground.
She was then taken into custody. Three days after being arrested, Sandra Bland was found dead in the jail cell where she was waiting to be released on bond—the victim of an alleged suicide.
Seconds into the report Kaste sets a tone that would lead a reasonable person to believe that Bland was in some way to blame for the series of events leading to her arrest.
With the release of the eyewitness video, the story went viral on social media. Hashtags like #SandraBland, #SayHerName, #IfIDieInPoliceCustody, and #CrimingWhileWhite set Twitter ablaze as thousands waited for the release of the official dashcam recording. The family, who had spoken to Bland after she was taken into custody, insists that she was waiting to be bailed out and that she had called them asking that they arrange for her release. They claim that Bland was not depressed and not suicidal.
So I sat in my car listening intently as NPR’s Morning Edition host, Steve Inskeep introduced Martin Kaste who would tell the listening audience, myself included, what he saw and heard on this highly anticipated official dashcam recording.
Kaste opened the report by stating, “This dashcam video captured more than just one person's arrest. This is a portrait of the tension between police and African-Americans in this country over the past year.” He then goes on to say, “In the video, trooper Brian Encinia pulls Sandra Bland over for not signaling a lane change. He's courteous. She's terse.”
In my opinion, seconds into the report Kaste sets a tone that would lead a reasonable person to believe that Bland was in some way to blame for the series of events that followed the initial encounter with Encinia. Taken aback by Kaste's almost immediate positive assessment of Encinia and negative assessment of Bland, I continued to listen hoping for a more balanced follow-on. I didn't get one.
In a post entitled, “Sandra Bland Video Shows An Argument With Police Officer”, Kaste gives a play-by-play commentary of portions of the video and also interviews Yale law professor Tracey Meares.
As I listened, already concerned by what I perceived to be bias against Sandra Bland, I found more troubling commentary, for example, Kaste asserts that “some people, especially in law enforcement, look at this dashcam video and see someone who'd already made up her mind about the trooper.” For what reason does Kaste include this narrative in his report? How does this assertion do anything other than set a tone of blame?
Kaste goes on to ask, “So who was more at fault there?” In my opinion, if he was being evenhanded he should have included discussion of what "some people" think about the trooper's behavior or the trooper’s state of mind before inserting his rhetorical,“so who was more at fault.”
I turned off the radio. Somewhat disappointed in NPR, I got out of my car and went to my meeting on Wilshire. Later, I watched the full 52-minute video myself. I’m no longer somewhat disappointed with NPR. I am now thoroughly disgusted.
You can hear the NPR piece by clicking here: