The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A new Sandra Bland recording is released, and 2020 Democratic candidates weigh in on police brutality

This is a short clip of police video that shows Sandra Bland's arrest in Texas on July 10, three days before she died in a county jail. (Video: Texas Department of Public Safety)
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This week, a Dallas news station obtained a cellphone clip recorded by Sandra Bland. The 28-year-old black woman was pulled over by a Texas state trooper in July 2015 after failing to signal a lane change. The video calls into question the officer’s account of the event.

In the video, officer Brian Encinia shouts: “Get out of the car! Now."

After Bland asks why Encinia would “threaten to drag me out of my own car,” he pulls out his Taser.

“Get out of the car!” he shouts while pointing it at her chest. “I will light you up!”

Three days later, Bland was found dead in jail, of an apparent suicide.

At the time, the police officer who arrested Bland said he feared for his life. This recording raises new questions about Encinia’s account and the investigation that followed. Bland’s family said it was never shown the clip and called on Texas officials to reopen a criminal investigation against the arresting officer.

The video sparked renewed conversation about police misconduct against black Americans. And many 2020 hopefuls weighed in as well.

Former congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) tweeted:

“Immediately re-open the investigation into Sandra Bland’s arrest and death. There must be full accountability and justice.”

Former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro weighed in as well:

“The recently released video Sandra Bland took of her own arrest provides the latest example of a police justification for the death of an unarmed black person being revealed as a flat out lie,” he wrote. “This video is compelling proof that Trooper Encinia lied, that Sandra Bland posed no threat, and that there was no basis for her arrest. This case should be reopened and justice should finally be served.”

Nina Turner, co-chair of the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), called the video “gut-wrenching” and “unacceptable.”

Although this issue has not dominated the news in recent weeks, it remains a major problem. The Washington Post reported that the number of fatal shootings by police increased in 2018 compared to 2017, according to an ongoing Washington Post database project that tracks the fatal shootings. The Post reported:

"While the number of black males — armed and unarmed — who have been killed has fallen, black males continue to be shot at disproportionately high rates, the data shows.

“Black males accounted for 22 percent of all people shot and killed in 2017, yet they are 6 percent of the total population. White males accounted for 44 percent of all fatal police shootings, and Hispanic males accounted for 18 percent.”

Activist Brittany Packnett, a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, told The Fix that these conversations must be revisited despite how challenging they can be.

“I’d like to see candidates continue to take the right stances, even if they are difficult,” she said. “I’m sure many people would rather not bring Sandra Bland back up again. But for black women like me, her presence is everywhere. Candidates who take her death seriously show me they take me seriously.”

That‘s not always easy. Although Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Cal.) has spoken our forcefully on this issue since she launched her campaign, she has been criticized for past positions related to addressing police brutality.

When the California legislature considered a bill in 2015 that would have required the office of the attorney general, who was Harris at the time, to appoint a special prosecutor to examine deadly police shootings, Harris told the San Francisco Chronicle: “I don’t think it would be good public policy to take the discretion from elected district attorneys.”

And I previously wrote how South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s past use of the phrase “All Lives Matter” — viewed by many as a rejection of the Black Lives Matter movement — prompted suspicion about his views on policing.

He has said he did not understand the context of the phrase at the time. And he was met with applause last month while speaking at a convention of the National Action Network, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, when he clearly said, “Black lives matter.”

President Trump has largely defended law enforcement officers since launching his campaign. He has not mentioned Bland since this new video was released.

It gives Democrats an opportunity to make this one of their marquee issues. Those who believe that addressing police violence should be part of the ongoing conversation about criminal justice reform will likely be looking to the individuals hoping to replace Trump to provide solutions to a problem that continues to plague communities nationwide. The question is, how seriously can they deliver.