The question of whether or not Sandra Bland hung herself in her jail cell–while important–is distracting us from the more important issue. Sandra Bland should never have been dragged from that car, and blaming her for her arrest is appalling.
15 years ago I got pulled over by a cop. It was winter, the roads were solid ice, and when the light changed on Northern Lights Boulevard, I tried to stop. Despite antilock breaks, I slid into the middle of the intersection of “C” street. The light completed changing and 5 lanes of traffic started moving toward me. It was rush hour, it was dark, and I had no way to back up. All I could do was clear the intersection.
Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw a police car turn onto Northern Lights and flip on his lights. Sure enough, he was after me. I pulled over, shaking with fury. He asked if I knew why he’d stopped me. I said no, because I’d been unable to stop. He said I’d never even braked. I said that he couldn’t have seen that because of where he was sitting when I slid into the intersection. He gave me a ticket anyway. I was crying and angry and not at all cooperative.
He didn’t demand that I get out of the car. He apologized for messing up my morning.
That’s how such an encounter should go. A police officer should expect that pulling people over is not going to make them happy. An officer should expect that people might, in fact, swear at them, and that the officer’s job in the situation is to calm things down.
So when I see people saying that what happened to Sandra Bland is because she was uncooperative, I am horrified. Who are these people who think that police officers should be mindlessly obeyed, and if they do not receive not just cooperation but eager cooperation then those officers are justified in dragging people from their cars and arresting them for resisting an officer.
This is only a few steps from a “let me see your papers” kind of police state. Our fourth amendment rights are threatened and many people are supporting the police as they trample these rights. We are supposed to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure. Refusing to put out a cigarette is not an act that should triggered reasonable seizure. Where does it end? Disagreeing with an officer? Rolling one’s eyes? Not smiling?
Do we truly want to live in a world where red lights flashing behind us leave us in fear of our lives?