Passing a cop on the side of the road, first thought, hit the brakes, second thought, check the speed. A huge percentage of the population drives a little too fast at one time or another, fails to signal, or forgets that their inspection has run out. Nobody wants to be stopped for a traffic violation. For one, it can be humiliating when rubberneckers continue to pass by, heads turned wondering endlessly what it is that you have done wrong. Albeit often mixed with anxiety, aren’t we all a little irritated at the flashing blues?
In the case of Sandra Bland, the arresting officer used this obvious irritation against Bland, calling her out, “you seem a little irritated” and thus, drawing out her honesty, which of course she has a right to. “I am a little irritated but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket.” Her tone is of annoyance, but is otherwise innocent. The tone of officer Brian Encinia, however, changes drastically. “Are you done?” He clearly expresses distaste for Bland’s response and soon after asks her to put out her cigarette. Here the situation escalates, both individuals hot with rage directed at each other.
When Bland refuses to leave the car, Encinia, whose voice has continued to rise throughout the situation, threatens, “I am going to yank you out of here.” And after continued protest he does so. Later, he threatens her again with his taser, shouting, “I will light you up.” Like a scene straight out of Grand Theft Auto, Sandra Bland is removed from her car and both physically and verbally abused by the arresting officer who has no concern for her well being whatsoever.
According to Mark Joseph Stern, who covers legal issues for Slate, all of the actions prior to Sandra Bland being forcibly removed from her car were entirely legal, although quite disturbing. Certainly it cannot be overlooked that Bland is yelling back throughout the scene, calling the cop a pussy, and accusing him of doing everything for power. But, it is always Encinia who does have the power, and therefore it is his responsibility to make sure that the situation remains under control.
Empathy is essential for all people to develop if we are to coexist in the world. From the seat of her car, Sandra Bland was absolutely no threat to the man in blue at her window. The footage suggests that his aggression came out of a need to be respected. The officer seems unable to accept that she is openly irritated by his arrest and shows his anger through violence. But if police officers are to be truly effective, shouldn’t they have techniques to curb their emotional response? Could he perhaps have taken a moment to pause, think, and calm down or called for backup before removing her from her car?
Here, the incredibly tragic suicide of Sandra Bland becomes central. Much outrage has pointed to the fact that nobody would commit suicide due to a traffic stop and a couple nights in prison, that something insidious must be behind it. However, if Bland was in fact suffering from depression as internet evidence has suggested, then almost anything could have brought her to the breaking point. A violent arrest is anything but small. Likewise, the event could be incredibly triggering to anyone who may have experienced a sexual assault or other physical assault. Police officers must be aware of these issues even as they are trying to make the world safer. Perhaps calling in someone else could have alleviated this possibility and provided a moment of sympathy.
However, the fact that when backup does finally arrive, the supporting officer responds to Bland’s insistence that Encinia is a pussy with, “No, you are,” and to her claims of epilepsy, “You should have thought of that before you resisted,” suggests a greater issue within the police force itself. Onlookers should not feel as though they are onlookers in an act of bullying. Americans, and especially black Americans, should not have to fear the police, they are meant to be protectors. If nothing else, police need to be better trained in anger management, mindfulness and compassionate approaches to justice.
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