The Real Problem in the Sandra Bland Case

I agree so seldom with what is written in the Huffington Post as to be just this side of never.  But lo and behold, yesterday there was a column by Tom Mullen about the arrest of Sandra Bland that should resonate thunderously across this country.  In that article, the author spares the reader the indignant shrieks of “racism!”.

It wasn’t her being black that started the tragic chain of events. It was refusing to follow a police officer’s orders.

At some point between ratification of the Fourth Amendment and the death of Sandra Bland, the entire principle underpinning that constitutional protection has been lost. The Fourth Amendment assumes armed agents of the state can’t be trusted to issue their own orders. That’s why we have warrants in the first place. They are permitted only to enforce the orders of an impartial judge, who authorizes them to apprehend suspects upon the judge’s determination of probable cause.

That’s not to say many or most officers aren’t well-intentioned or trustworthy. But their job is to use force. That role must be separated from the issuance of orders.

Had Sandra Bland been a murder suspect and arresting officer Brian Encinia serving a warrant for her arrest, no one would have questioned Encinia’s conduct in ordering her out of her car.

But Bland wasn’t a murder suspect. As she quite rationally protested, she was ordered out of her car over a “failure to signal.” She had complied with the traffic stop. I seriously doubt there is a law or ordinance requiring her to stop smoking while being issued a citation for a traffic violation.

Emphasis mine.  Read the whole thing.  Definitely points to ponder.  Much has been said here and elsewhere about the runaway authority being exercised by law enforcement at the expense of Constitutional liberties.  Ferguson, and the “stop and frisk” policies in Brooklyn are such cases.  However, quite deliberately, the usual suspects shout “racism” at the tops of their lungs to obfuscate the true issues and stifle intelligent discussion.

In Ferguson, the conversation had drifted from Michael Brown’s actions (robbing a store and reaching for the policeman’s gun) to the actions of deputized law enforcement brought in to keep order.  These actions included pointing a loaded weapon at an unarmed and innocent civilian with a threat to inflict mortal harm.  It was when those actions became the focus of outrage, that AG Eric Holder and his ilk moved in to redirect the story back toward cries of racism, and the utterly disingenuous “Hands Up” meme.

I have had a number of conversations about the “stop and frisk” policy in New York.  It was immediately surmised that such a policy was inherently racist, and that is the reason it should have been stopped.  When I point out that, racist policy or not, the Fourth Amendment forbids the police from stopping and searching someone ANYWHERE without probable cause, I often get surprised looks.  A recitation of the Fourth Amendment sometimes helps.

The author offers a highly plausible explanation for the actions of the arresting officer:

…it’s much more likely he treated her the way he did because she didn’t exhibit blind obedience to his every whim, something he was trained not to tolerate and Americans of all political persuasions seem to have acquiesced to without question.

The idea of going along to get along has become a very dangerous thing in the larger picture.  It is creating precedent of unfettered authority in the hands of law enforcement, while at the same time, de facto negating our civil liberties in the face of petty tyranny.

Mix in what XBRAD has documented so often, the militarization of our police forces nationwide, and the result is the subjugation of a free people to an authority without control or restraint, except that of the temperament and decency of those in that authority.  Our Constitution was written, and has been enforced, to prevent precisely such an eventuality.

16 thoughts on “The Real Problem in the Sandra Bland Case”

  1. I should note that the officer, under the precedent of the decisions of the Supreme Court over the years, had the authority to compel Ms. Bland to exit the vehicle. That is, he merely has to be able to articulate a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or may soon be committed.
    And just about any officer can articulate that reasonable suspicion on virtually any encounter with a citizen.

    1. The authority under Pennsylvania v. Mimms is for the officer’s safety, to separate the suspect from any hidden weapons in the vehicle. As such, the officer does not need to justify it to any court.

      You may be thinking of a Terry Stop which controls when a Traffic stop may be performed, or vehicle searches which are governed by Michigan v. Long and requires reasonable suspicion. Two or more doctrines may be relevant during a single incident, however.

    2. When law enforcement has no requirement to show cause for actions, you have authority without control or restraint, except that which is governed by the temperament and decency of the person exercising that authority. As we have seen countless times, it is the safety of the public both as individuals and at large that suffers.

  2. Not the video I was looking for, but close enough. Note the difference in the officers’ attitudes and conduct.

    The officer in the Bland traffic stop needlessly escalated the situation. There was absolutely no reason that situation should have resulted in anything more than the issuance of a warning ticket.

    If I had been in the officer’s place, l too would have followed her and pulled her over, whether she signaled or not. Her right turn onto the main street without even slowing was excuse enough for me just as it was for the officer in the actual incident.

    1. What an arse. He’s lucky he drew a tolerant officer out of the pool.

      The bit about littering was pretty good; “you missed a bit.” Also, “bye.”

  3. The entire video of the stop is 40+ minutes. I doubt too many of us have watched the entire thing. That being said the officer acted in an imprudent manner and has been removed from duty. The DPS chief said he did not act in accordance with the guidelines set for state troopers. He will more than likely be punished if not dismissed.

    Regarding the cigarette. I suspect he asked her to put it out because at times people smoke cigarettes in an attempt to mask other smells.

    9 times out of 10 if you are polite, they are polite…if they are wrong be polite, get their info, lodge a complaint.

  4. “Protect and Serve” – a role for the police. “Defend against all enemies foreign and domestic” – a role for the military. I maintain the most members of both organizations understand their role and live up to that role as well as they can.
    What seems to cloud the situation is the issuance of unlawful orders from higher authority. We all know that we are under no obligation to obey an unlawful order. The forces that intend to destroy this nation from within will do so by pitting us against one another. Unlawful orders that violate a citizen’s rights are one of the means to that end. You do not want to become an unwitting player as a result of a misguided sense of duty.
    The time has come for push back or we will cease to be a free people.

  5. Agree completely with the original post, and even with the HuffPost article. This never needed to go that far. I drive that highway fairly regularly and it is heavily patrolled. In all my interactions with Texas DPS troopers I’ve never seen anything like in the video.

  6. Very well done URR, Thanks.

    The scary thing is how so many Americans let themselves be distracted from the fundamental problem by slick and authoritative language. It’s become a Pavlovian reflex, this automatic bow to government/intellectual authority.

  7. As a slight aside I read that Ferguson MO now has a black police chief “on loan” from Glendale AZ for six months to direct a new relationship between that police force and the community.

  8. You can slice it anyway you want to but here are the salient facts:

    Sandra Bland was arrested without being given a reason after an inconsequential offense, officers used excessive and unnecessary force during the arrest, and she died in police custody.

    Anything else is spin.

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