The Tragic Death of Sandra Bland, The Broader Problem Of Police Violence, And What We Can Do
The tragic death of Sandra Bland is the latest incident to underscore the important conversation about racial injustice and the excessive use of force by police that is taking place at dinner tables, on social media, and at presidential forums around the country. A new video of her arrest adds more details to the event in which an African American women pulled over for failing to use a turn signal was then arrested, and found hanging in her jail cell three days later. Her arrest and cause of death remain in dispute, and the FBI is investigating the matter.
For a complete timeline of the arrest and to see the video itself, check out a New York Times rundown here. Due in large part to social media, Bland’s death has received a lot of attention since the video of her arrest was circulated. In general, though, it is rare for black women brutalized by police to receive this much attention. Public figures — including President Barack Obama — continue to overlook them in some cases: “The bottom line is that in too many places, black boys and black men, Latino boys and Latino men experience being treated differently under the law,” Obama said at the NAACP Annual Convention last week.
While Bland’s death is an apparent suicide and is still under investigation, the extent of the problem of police killings is beginning to come into greater focus (a suicide is no less tragic, of course, and the rate jail suicides is extraordinarily high). One of the big issues is the fact that we have never had good data on exactly how often police officers kill civilians. But there are two new projects now keeping count in real time — and the numbers are astronomical. According to The Guardian, 637 people have been killed by police so far this year. The Washington Post, meanwhile, is tracking police shootings and counts 535 of those. That’s almost three people shot and killed by police every day this year. While neither of these are official counts, these numbers underscore that the problem goes far beyond the occasional high-profile incidents we write about and talk about.
The elevation of the dialogue around these important issues – to the point where many presidential candidates are discussing them – is a very important step toward meaningful solutions. Efforts at legislation are being made as well. The Senate introduced a bill in early June that would require increased data collection on incidents involving use of force by or against law enforcement officers. In the wake of the Charleston shooting, House Democrats introduced a bill that would allow the CDC to study gun violence, which it has been banned from doing since 1996 thanks to the NRA. It was swiftly blocked by House Republicans.
Our colleagues at the Center for American Progress have also put out recommendations to reform the criminal justice system, including to increase the federal government’s oversight of police conduct, implement ‘implicit bias’ training, collect better data, and increase the use of special prosecutors in police misconduct investigations. Given the new bills and involvement of the FBI in investigating Sandra Bland’s death, some of these are playing more of a role already.
BOTTOM LINE: Sandra Bland should be alive today. Her tragic death illuminates a number of serious problems with our current system of criminal justice and with the way many black people –including black women– are treated in America. While these issues are raising in their importance to the highest levels of government, we can’t act quickly enough.
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