Sandra Bland Remembrance Today
Evening event includes march from Victory Grill to Capitol
By Maria Mendez,
10:20AM, Thu. Jul. 13, 2017
The grassroots nonprofit Counter Balance: ATX will host a Sandra Bland remembrance event at 7pm today, bringing people together to continue organizing on the second anniversary of Bland’s death in a Waller County jail. The event will start at the Victory Grill (1104 E. 11th) and conclude after a march west on 11th Street to the Capitol.
Fatima Mann, an activist and the executive director of Counter Balance: ATX, said she helped organize the event as a way to remember Bland and “others that have died in the custody of – or to police brutality.”
Bland’s death, ruled a suicide in 2016, garnered national attention shortly after it happened – when dashboard camera video of her arrest for assault of a public servant during a traffic stop by Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia revealed no exertion of physical aggression from Bland. Instead, the video shows Encinia forcefully arresting Bland after she questioned and vocally protested his unusual order to step out of the car for her infraction. (She was pulled over for failing to use her turn signal.) After being unable to pay the $500 release bond, Bland was assigned to a jail cell. She was found hanging in that cell three days later. Investigations after her death revealed that Encinia did not follow traffic stop procedures, and that jail guards did not run proper check-ins on Bland during her incarceration.
Mann, a law student who founded Counter Balance and played an integral role in the development of the Austin Justice Coalition, told the Chronicle that even though contention about the details of Bland’s arrest and death still exists, she hopes people will focus on the activism Bland did for the Black Lives Matter movement at protests in Chicago and through the YouTube channel Sandy Speaks, where she regularly discussed police brutality and encouraged people to use their cell phones and social media to “make a change.”
“We understand that the story has been that she committed suicide, but that’s not her story,” said Mann. “If people are going to talk about Sandra Bland, I’d really like to tell the story of how she lived, what she believed in, how she used her voice to speak out against injustices.”
The legacy and fight for justice for Bland’s death re-emerged as a piece of political conversation in June, when Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Sandra Bland Act and Encinia, who was fired in 2016, was cleared of perjury – his only charge – on the condition that he not work in law enforcement.
The Sandra Bland Act, authored by state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, was written to address proper procedures for consented searches, arrests for nonjailable offenses, and jail reforms. Through these provisions, the original bill sought to prevent racial profiling and hostile law enforcement behavior. But its passage hit a bumpy road at the Capitol, where the state’s police unions – the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas and the Texas Municipal Police Association – raised concerns about requirements such as the unfunded mandate for officers to undergo implicit bias training. When it reached the Senate, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, rewrote the bill to redirect its focus on de-escalation training, independent investigations into in-custody deaths, and accommodations for arrestees with mental health issues. The approved Act, which goes into effect Sept. 1, no longer confronts the issues of racial bias in law enforcement and unnecessary arrests, like the one that led to Bland’s death.
Mann hopes the remembrance event can provide an opportunity to help people understand the Sandra Bland Act and how to continue organizing. “This is just the beginning, and [people] need to get more involved with their local legislators,” she said.
Local social justice organizations at the event will provide information about volunteering and civic engagement. The Eastside School Supply Drive will also be there to collect items that may help impoverished families and the children of incarcerated parents. Donations will be accepted through Aug. 16.