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Wrongful Death: What Happened to Sandra Bland?

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Sandra Bland (Courtesy Photo)

Sandra Bland (Courtesy Photo)

by Jeffrey L. Boney
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times

It is still unknown whether 28-year-old Sandra Bland was murdered by Waller County law enforcement officials or whether she committed suicide, but whatever the cause of death there is one thing for certain – it was a wrongful death.

Concerned citizens and community activists from all across the Greater Houston area have been up-in-arms and gravely concerned after receiving the news that Bland, an African-American female, was found hanging in a jail cell by a plastic bag on Monday, July 13th.

Authorities immediately released reports saying Bland hanged herself in her Waller County jail cell – which is about 60 miles northwest of Houston – three days after having her head slammed to the ground and being arrested for allegedly getting into a physical altercation with an officer during a routine traffic stop – Bland supposedly failed to signal a lane change.

Bland had recently come back home to Texas to take a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, and was stopped on Friday, July 10, by a Waller County state trooper. Another driver recorded cell phone video of the incident is her telling the officers she is in pain and cannot hear after her head was slammed on the ground by the male arresting officer.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has identified the law enforcement official who made the initial traffic stop of Bland as Brian Encinia. According to state records, Encinia, 30, has served at the department for one year and one month after earning his peace officer license in June 2014 and after receiving 1511 hours of training from the agency.

This past Monday, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a three-hour surveillance video taken from outside of Bland’s jail cell on the morning she was found dead in her cell.

Although the video released was three hours long, the video itself only covers 9 minutes and 26 seconds of actual footage because the camera is motion-activated.

At 7:17 a.m., the video shows an officer stop by Bland’s cell for several seconds and according to investigators, Bland told the officer that she was fine. Less than an hour later, another officer – a female officer – checked on Bland and you see the officer bend down, stand up and then start running for help.

According to Captain Brian Cantrell of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, “the jailer looked through the window and observed Miss Bland hanging from her privacy partition in her cell.”

Cantrell stated that Bland was then placed on the floor for jailers to perform CPR and then five minutes later, paramedics went in but she was already dead.

According to the Harris County Medical Examiner, her death was ruled a suicide.

So far, authorities said they see no sign of foul play, but Bland’s family and supporters don’t believe she committed suicide and believe foul play may have been involved.

“The family of Sandra Bland is confident that she was killed and did not commit suicide,” the family’s law firm wrote in a statement. “The family has retained counsel to investigate Sandy’s death.”

Pastor Jamal Bryant, of the Empowerment Temple AME Church of Baltimore, has been in Hempstead at the Bland family’s request and believes Bland was murdered.

“This was not a case of suicide, but homicide,” said Bryant. “I stand in solidarity with the family, but we have to enlarge the narrative. This issue is bigger than Sandy. There is an attack on Black people in America and it must be acknowledged and dealt with immediately.”

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said the Texas Rangers, along with the FBI, are analyzing the video to make sure it has not been altered and are investigating the death of Bland.

“It is very much too early to make any kind of determination that this was a suicide or a murder because the investigations are not complete,” said Mathis. “This investigation is still being treated just as it would be in a murder investigation. There are many questions being raised in Waller County, across the country and the world about this case. It needs a thorough review.”

Mathis has asked the Texas Rangers to do extensive scientific testing for fingerprints, touch DNA and use any other valid investigative techniques in an attempt to “figure out and say with certainty what happened in that cell.”

Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, said that Bland called her from jail the afternoon after her arrest, informing her that she had been arrested for unknown reasons and disclosed the details surrounding her accounts that an officer had placed his knee in her back and she thought her arm had been broken.

According to the Department of Public Safety, Bland “became argumentative and uncooperative” during the routine traffic stop; was arrested for assault on a public servant; and that paramedics were called to the scene to offer Bland a medical evaluation, but she refused.

Video footage captured by another driver who was passing by the incident was released, which shows Bland being forced on the ground and protesting her treatment and subsequent arrest.

The public had been awaiting the release of the dash cam footage from the police car of the officer who pulled Bland over, but according to Cannon Lambert, the attorney representing Bland’s family, you can see Bland arguing with the officer and the officer pulling out his Taser.  The dash cam video was released on Tuesday.

Lambert said the dash cam video and the footage from the jail does not provide a full picture of what actually happened to Bland, during the traffic stop or what led to her death, but Lambert shared more details about the dash cam video that should lead to a more detailed investigation.

According to Lambert, the dash cam video shows the following:

  • Officer approaches Bland’s vehicle and obtains her license and registration;
  • Officer returns to his police car;
  • Officer comes back and asks Bland to put out her cigarette, to which she refuses;
  • Officer orders Bland to get out of her car and then opens her door;
  • Bland protests and reaches for her cellphone to record the incident;
  • Officer steps back and pulls out his Taser;
  • Bland complies with officer by getting out of the car on her own;
  • Officer tells Bland to put down her cellphone and tells Bland she is going to jail, to which she questions why
  • Then the two move behind Bland’s vehicle to the passenger side of the car, and are out of view for the rest of the footage
  • Out of view, Bland can be heard protesting her arrest

Video footage reportedly captured by a passer-by released last week appears to show Bland on the ground and protesting as she is being taken into custody.

State Senator Rodney Ellis sent a letter to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards – which monitors county jails across the state – asking for a thorough inspection of the jail.

“The family and the community deserve to know how this unfortunate loss of life occurred, whether there were any violations of procedures and protocols, and how this could have been prevented,” said Ellis.

U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee stated that she was contacting the U.S. Department of Justice to ask officials to look further into the death of Bland.

“Hopefully we will be pursuing this to get an understanding how this young lady lost her life,” said Jackson Lee.

Several community activists, ministers, students and concerned citizens have been holding protests, rallies and marches in the area and more are planned.

In the meantime, DPS has said the officer who stopped Bland violated traffic stop procedures and department policy and is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

The family is awaiting the results of an independent autopsy and the results of the investigation surrounding the death of their loved one – Sandra Bland.

The Houston Forward Times will continue to follow this story and provide updates as they arise.

History

The Black Press: Our Trusted Messenger

Our Black newspapers are now celebrating 194 years of being the keeper of the flame of liberty and the source of information in “our” struggle for freedom and equality.

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Cover of the Oakland Post

Sometimes it’s necessary to be reminded who we are and who our friends are.  It’s also important to remember from whence we have come. 

Such is the case this week with the Black Press. Our Black newspapers are now celebrating 194 years of being the keeper of the flame of liberty and the source of information in “our” struggle for freedom and equality.

With the advent of the recent pandemic and the visible disparity of Blacks dying at greater numbers than others, getting fewer vaccines, working in the highest risk occupations and death at the hands of law enforcement, our need for a “trusted” source of information is greater than social media, which has become an alternative for many.

 At the same time, the interest in reaching our communities has increased on all levels. The question has become “who is in touch with the Black community” as injustice, murder and social disparity continues to grow among Blacks. 

The NAACP and the Urban League gave the impression that they were in touch with the Black community. But the reality is neither organization has ever been in touch with the Black community without the Black Press.  It is Black newspapers and not CNN, ABC, NBC or CBS that carries the articles and commentaries of these organizations to the Black community. 

Yet, neither of these organizations ever mentions the Black Press when taking both credit and dollars for outreach to the Black community.

The African American and Black communities of America should not be duped into believing that social media has become a substitute for the Black Press. The Black Press is now both print and electronic, it’s a newswire service as provided by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), providing coverage of both news here in America and around the world.

 It is the Black Press that has been the “Trusted Messenger” to our communities for 194 years, and that says a lot. Our newspapers are the rear guard, the battle ground against the efforts to resegregate America and return to “Jim Crow” racism.

As we celebrate Juneteenth, let us remember that we are not only free but capable of defending and determining our futures if we get serious. Let’s remember how we got here, on the backs of those like the Black Press who bought us thus far; let us not forget in the words of James Weldon Johnson: that “ we have come over a way that with tears has been watered, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” We are still being slaughtered today by others as well as each other.

Let’s remember who is truly telling our story and our obligation to keep and support that effort. Pick up a Black newspaper and get involved. You owe that and more to keeping the Juneteenth principle of freedom alive today.

Editor-in-Chief note:  The Post News Group consists of nine newspapers:  Oakland, South County, San Francisco, Vallejo, Marin, Stockton, Richmond, Berkeley Tri-City and El Mundo.  We are also online at postnewsgroup.com.

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Black History

Juneteenth: Our Independence Day

Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, it commemorates the end of slavery, the seminal event in Black history.

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Graphic courtesy istock.

June 19, or Juneteenth, is independence day for many Americans of African descent.

Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, it commemorates the end of slavery, the seminal event in Black history.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, but was read to slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, more than two years later.

There are several different accounts of why the news of freedom took so long to arrive.

One story has it that slaves were intentionally kept ignorant about their freedom in order to allow crops to continue being harvested. Another has a messenger traveling by mule to deliver the news, and it simply took more than two years to arrive from Washington, D.C., to Texas. Yet another story has the messenger being murdered before he could deliver the message.

No matter the origin of Juneteenth, the end of slavery is definitely worth celebrating. But while much has happened in the 158 years since slavery officially ended, its legacies still remain in the form of disparate salaries, educational levels and incarceration rates.

Juneteenth, which is now observed in 48 states (North Dakota and Hawaii do not observe)  and the District of Columbia, is a time to take stock of our progress — and of the work that remains.

Last year, during the pandemic our current vice president and former senator, Kamala Harris, said:  “[m]y message on this Juneteenth:  may we honor those who suffered, died and survived the crushing reality of slavery by looking to the future.”

Twelve years ago President Barack Obama said: “African Americans helped to build our nation brick by brick and have contributed to her growth in every way, even when rights and liberties were denied to them.”

We’re still building it.

In 2021, as our state opens up post-pandemic and we deal with racial reckoning as we never have before  #BlackLivesMatter is becoming a reality. 

This year is truly our Independence Day.

Happy Juneteenth.

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Community

Turner Family Patriarch Turns 100, Passes the Torch

A huge fan of the L.A. Dodgers, Turner was invited to try out for the Dodgers Minor System in the early 1950s and the ambidextrous Turner once pitched a double header left-handed in the first game and right-handed in the second.

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Caption: Douglas “Buster” Turner looks out over Oakland and the San Francisco Bay from his back porch on May 28, 2021, just six days after his 100th birthday. Photo by Christy Price.

A poem written for Douglas “Buster” Turner’s 100th birthday is entitled “My Eyes Have Seen a Lot of Things.” After 100 years on Earth, that is an understatement. Turner’s life began on May 22, 1921, in Ansley, La., as the son of Nada and John Turner. 

Turner had a full childhood surrounded by his 13 siblings in Morton, Miss., where they were raised. Turner’s parents instilled in their children a sense of honor and pride by teaching them to be accountable and take responsibility for their actions while still giving them the autonomy they needed to become their own people. 

And become his own person, he did!

A young Turner served in the United States Army, completing a tour of duty in Nazi Germany during World War II. After an honorable discharge from the military, Turner utilized the benefits being a veteran offered him through the GI Bill. 

Turner married Coreene in 1940 and they took up a nomadic lifestyle in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era. They adjusted and adapted as they traveled along what his son, Eddie Turner, refers to as the ‘Chitlin Circuit,’ barnstorming with various Negro League Baseball teams through Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Georgia. Turner moved to Oakland in 1949 with the rest of the family joining him about a year later. 

A huge fan of the L.A. Dodgers, Turner was invited to try out for the Dodgers Minor System in the early 1950s and the ambidextrous Turner once pitched a double header left-handed in the first game and right-handed in the second.

The time spent on the road with Coreene, who passed away in 2015, created a bond that lasted 75 years and produced seven children. The Turners would raise Albertine, Eddie, Fred, Johnny, Michael, Mary, and Sherrie with the same family values that Turner had been raised with. 

Their door was always open to the neighborhood children and the family never met a stranger. Douglas Turner’s legacy is an open, helping hand, one of caring and sharing. 

To provide for his family, both close and extended, Turner became a union journeyman machinist. Turner employed many workers at his Mohawk Gas Station in Oakland, Calif. before the brand changed hands. When his budget kept him from buying a much needed truck, Turner’s innovation and imagination led him to repurpose a car into a truck, well before the El Camino made its debut. 

As Mr. Turner turns 100 years old and dementia confuses time and memories for him; he often revisits the past. His son becomes his brother, and he is once again a young man. 

Though the memories are fading for him, the stories of his epic journeys will not end: Turner’s children will carry on the Turner legacy of accountability, responsibility, integrity, and autonomy. The Turner family is the product of all the hard work that Turner did in making a strong family unit filled with the wonderful tales they saw through their father’s eyes. 

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