Thursday, July 23, 2015

Another Cop On An Authority Trip - The Terrorizing of Sandra Bland

Image for the news result
Taser at the ready, TX highway cop Brian Encinia marches Sandra Bland out of her car, after she refused to put out a cigarette.

Here we go again! Another case of a cop losing his cool and over-reacting to a person of color, allowing badge to get the better of brain. Where does it end? After the Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Grey and Walter Scott incidents one would have thought that cops stopping black people would mind their Ps and Qs especially with the 'Black Lives Matter' group on the warpath.  Recall poor Walter Scott lost his life after being shot in the back by runaway, gunslinger cop Michael Slager - now cooling off in a SC jail - after stopping Scott initially for a busted tail light.
In the most recent case, gung ho Texas cowpoke (actually Texas highway patrol man) Brian Encinia stops a black woman named Sandra Bland - en route to her job at her alma mater - and terrorizes her the better part of 50 minutes. Where was this bozo trained anyway?  Watching four news programs last night which each featured expert, experienced cops - including from the NYPD and MD state police - all agreed Encinia totally blew it. He acted like an unchained beast as opposed to an officer of the law whose first duty is not to escalate an interaction but keep his cool.
As for the video itself, I've already viewed it at least seven times including on the Houston Chronicle site. Each time the impression is further reinforced that Encinia allowed his badge, ego and authority to go to his head. The 'breakpoint' to me occurred after he returned from his patrol car and then instead of completing the transaction and letting Bland off with the warning, asked her if she was "irritated"
After she said 'yes' and explained to him why he then got bolshy and asked: "Are you finished?" when she had to remind him HE was the one that brought it up! After all, if he didn't want that sort of negative response he shouldn't have asked her the damned question. It wasn't her duty to appease him and say "No, I'm just fine, sir." when she wasn't - especially after being stopped for a tiddly ass moving infraction.
The escalation then really explodes when he asks her to put out her cigarette. WHY? She's had to wait almost eight minutes for the guy to write up whatever (as shown on the Chronicle video) so instead of twiddling her thumbs decided to have a smoke. Was that against the law too? Anyway, as soon as she refuses (saying she can smoke in her own car if she wants), he demands that she exit the vehicle.
Was Encinia's demand to exit because of Bland's refusal? If so, what statute in Texas — or anywhere in America — stipulates that a citizen can’t smoke during a traffic stop? WHO made this law and where was it passed, under what statute?
The whole thing came over as Encinia trying to exert a capricious control over this black woman who was merely establishing her own boundaries and will. What...she's supposed to creep out of the car, get on her knees, look up at Mr. Southern Whitey Cop and say: "Yes, Massah! I'm here at your command!  Anything else you want from me? Kiss your boots maybe?"
What was he, afraid she'd use her cig as a weapon? Give me a break!
 One can actually argue that Encinia precipitated the incident himself - by his own aggressive driving. The video shows his car accelerating behind Bland’s and passing a sign indicating a speed limit of 20 miles per hour. How fast was he closing the distance on Bland before she changed lanes? Was it completely reasonable for her to attempt to move out of his way? The consensus last night on 'All In' with Chris Hayes, was 'yes'. Attorney Andrea Ritchie, when asked about this, observed:

"What was going through my mind is it was outrageous. ...I'm sure many of your viewers have failed to signal when they make a lane change particularly when you see lights from a police car in the rear view mirror.  The thing you most want to do is get out of the way and that's what the law requires you to do. To forget to turn on your turn signal at that point is certainly understandable ...but him trying to harass her when she was in fact trying to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle is truly outrageous."

Meanwhile, former NYPD Detective Marq Claxton - when asked - observed:

"The fact is we're observing a violation of law, not even a crime. So, you have to interact with the civilian population based on what it is you're investigating. If there's a question about a violent crime you may approach and interact one way, but we're talking about a traffic violation- not a crime. So it brings up the issue of whether this police officer was capable of interacting professionally or whether he exacerbated the situation and increased tensions, was provocative in his demeanor and his language. And that really is disturbing based on what we've seen in the video."

Regarding the breakdown and exchange when the cop asks Bland to put out her cigarette,  Attorney Andrea Ritchie  - like me- asserted she's aware of no law that requires a citizen to put out a cigarette at a traffic stop, or in order to appease a cop. As she noted on viewing the segment:

"I felt he had what he needed and was only unnecessarily prolonging the detention, He asked her a question of whether she was annoyed or not and she answered calmly and truthfully. If he wasn't prepared for the answer to the question he shouldn't have asked it. He decided at that point he was going to dig into her, and he did. But at that point she had had enough, including with the basis for the stop....which is highly discretionary."

Ritchie did acknowledge that officers have the right to order a person out of a car, but this is based on probable cause that the officer suspects a threat to his safety. She added:

"At that point she had been pulled over for quite some time and there's no indication from the video that he thought or believed there was a weapon. So really at that point he was ordering her out of the car and exercising control simply for the sake of exercising control over her. So technically whether he had the legal right  or not is not the point. It was completely superfluous at that point  for the purposes of the stop."

In other words, his ego and badge got the better of him.

Former Detective Marq Claxton then weighed in citing Pennsylvania vs Mims regarding the power of police to order people out of a car during a routine traffic stop. As he put it:

"For that to be valid there has to be some reasonable fear for that individual police officer's safety. And that's the key word missing in so much of the discussion we have. We can't just say 'the police officer was afraid for his life' or 'the police officer was fearful, that's not good enough.  There is a standard and that standard is reasonable.

It is unreasonable, for example, to see  a straw in a person's mouth and say 'I fear for my life' because the straw can be shot into my eye, my brain etcetera. That's not reasonable. We should be dealing with what is reasonable along with what is legally, constitutionally correct."

Andrea Ritchie then summarizes the trajectory of Encinia literally running amuck:

"Clearly she was speaking in a calm voice, explaining her irritation but speaking calmly and never, ever suggested she posed any kind of physical threat to him. So for him to go straight from a verbal command to leave the car to threatening to light her up is going from zero to what's supposed to be a substitute for lethal force in less than a second."

And this, in the context of, "pretextual stops" is what must give every black person, especially, nightmares. Because if it can happen to a Sandra Bland it can happen to anyone. Hence, the need to get all the cops under control, with better training, across the country.

Of course, the slimers will try to make specious rationalizations for the cop's actions as they seek to tar Bland with a broad brush. Likely insisting that the whole failure of the transaction was her fault,  invoking whatever balderdash, i.e. "she ought to have been more polite" (read appeasing and subservient) they can imagine. But if they do so, they have not learned a thing....from any of the previous incidents- and are thus more likely dedicated Foxites, i.e. not part of the reality community. Sadly, there is no cure for unreality or spurious convictions based upon it.

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