The ballad of Sandra Bland
She was a Facebook evangelist, telling us what was wrong in the world while shedding light on the positive things in her life and society. More than a year after her death, the hashtag #SandySpeaks continues to echo across the Internet.
This week, Bland's family settled a $1.9 million wrongful death lawsuit against Texas authorities, according to media reports. The state's Department of Public Safety will pay $100,000; the Waller County Jail, where Bland was found dead, will pay $1.8 million.
The lawsuit is a personal victory of sorts for Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, who stipulated that as part of the conditions of the settlement Waller County must supply the jail system with an electronic system to monitor guard checkups on inmates, and emergency nurses available around the clock, KTRK reports.
Also as part of the settlement, Waller County must name beneficial legislation in honor of Sandra Bland, according to KTRK.
In the summer of 2016, a Texas police officer who witnessed Bland's arrest came forward, saying that he was threatened by a prosecutor to keep quiet. Prairie View Police Officer Michael Kelley also said key details -- which reflect poorly on the arresting officer -- were omitted from the police report.
“My opinion is that he messed up,” Kelley told the Huffington Post. “He did not have probable cause to detain her after he pulled her out of the car.”
Kelley said that Officer Brian Encinia was heard mumbling that he didn't even know what to charge Bland with -- but that he'd come up with something.
Another key detail which never made the police report? “She had a large mark on her head. Maybe she fell when she was in handcuffs. Maybe she got kicked,” Kelley told the Huffington Post.
The prosecutor has denied Kelley's claims that he was threatened, according to the Post.
Bland began recording short videos on Facebook in January 2015. Her family was initially hesitant when they saw her speaking so boldly about the killings of black folk and general injustice perpetrated against people of color. "It's time, y'all," she said in her first post.
“To see Sandy engaging in self-discovery and self-reflection on a daily basis, for her to have the fortitude to do that and not be deterred by detractors who did not agree with her messaging or her tone—because I do not want to be mistaken: Sandy had a very commanding tone—I think we’re seeing Sandy really figuring out where she wanted to be in the world, where she wanted to etch her mark,” her sister Sharon Cooper told Chicago Magazine.
Her Instagram is still up, a virtual monument to a life cut down in it prime. Bland was slated to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater. She had every reason to live, her prospects bright as the sun. Yet days after being arrested, she lay cold on the floor.
It all began when Bland was pulled over for a mundane traffic stop, which probably would have resulted in a warning.
“Hello ma’am,” the state trooper said in a video released by law enforcement officials. “We’re the Texas highway patrol, and the reason for your stop is because you failed to signal the lane change.”
But then things take a turn. The trooper is perturbed. Bland is annoyed. This exchange happens:
“This is your job. I’m waiting on you. When’re you going to let me go?” Bland asks the lawman.
“I don’t know. You seem very irritated,” he says. This is a pivotal point in their interaction. It's almost as if he's baiting her in some way.
“I am. I really am. I feel like it’s crap what I’m getting a ticket for. I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over, and you stop me. So yeah, I am a little irritated, but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket,” Bland says.
“Are you done?” the trooper interjects.
“You asked me what was wrong, and I told you. So now I’m done, yeah,” Bland says.
Then the trooper tries her, clearly looking for a reaction. “You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don’t mind.”
“I’m in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?”
It all goes downhill from there. He orders her out of the car and after a few other back-and-forths, she is slammed to the ground and arrested.
On July 13, 2015, she was found dead in her jail cell, her body hanging from a noose tied to a plastic bag, according to the official police account.
In the Bible, Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days. Jesus, the epitome of vigorous life, was dead in the tomb for three days. Sandra Bland was bound in her own personal tartarus for three days.
Her friend Alexandria Pyle, told CNN, that her 72-hour lockup, where she was isolated and destitute, broke her down emotionally. "She found out her bond was $5,000, and no one -- she was calling and calling -- and no one was answering, and then after that she just broke down. She was crying and crying," Pyle said to CNN.
In March 2016, Bland's mother Geneva Reed-Veal, had to face the officer who arrested Bland, Brian Encinia. It was Encinia who was fired and charged with perjury in the case. He is fighting the charges with vigor, something Bland never got the chance to do.
Bland's mother, a part-time preacher and Realtor, speaking to the Chicago Tribune in May 2016, said that the fact that she has to be paraded in front of a judge and jury is a cruel irony in a case where the injustice is blindingly clear.
“You better know God to go through something like this,” her mom Geneva Reed-Veal told the Chicago Sun-Times. “When you walk in to a courtroom and everybody’s laughing, when the district attorney is laughing, when on the opposite side everything is funny, when you see all of these U.S. marshals surrounding him like he’s the victim. Your baby’s dead, but he’s able to talk and plead his case.
“And he says he’s not guilty. And I have to sit there as I watch this man smirk at the family. And I have to say, ‘OK, I gotta keep my mind on the master and not on this man.’ So I didn’t look at him again. And I was all right. I didn’t cry.”
Today Bland's family continues to grieve with the hope that some sort of closure can come from her death.
"Sandy's story has got to be told," her mother told the Chicago Daily Herald. "It can't be swept under the rug."
See Reed-Veal's interview with the Sun-Times below: