Transcript, Web links and Credits below.
Four years after the brutal arrest and death of Sandra Bland, we just now learned that she filmed her arrest. I’ve shared the video, but I want to unpack and explain who hid it, why, and what the video shows us. I’m pissed.
Let’s dig in.
This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!
Four years ago, a young Black woman named Sandra Bland moved from Chicago to rural Texas to work at Prairie View A&M. That’s a wonderful Black college that she graduated from back in 2009. She had just taken a job there at Prairie View. And I’ve been to the campus and I retraced the steps that Sandra took on the day she was arrested.
On July 13 of 2015, Sandra Bland took a right turn off of the main street of her college campus and saw a police car speeding behind her. I mean it was roaring. And as a courtesy, she moved her car over to the right to get out of the way. And when she did so, she didn’t use her turn signal. So the officer, Brian Encinia, pulled her over. And let’s be clear, it was an empty road right in front of a Black college campus. This was racial profiling.
And Sandra Bland was frustrated from the start. And for Brian Encinia, this stop was never about turn signals or traffic violations. It was about white power and it burned him up when he got to the window of Sandra’s car and saw that she was a proud, informed, strong Black woman. He was completely unnerved. And, immediately, it became about power for him. And as soon as Sandra Bland really understood that this wasn’t just a traffic stop, she did something that we never knew she did.
The police knew it. Local prosecutors knew it. And for four years they kept this a secret.
When Sandra Bland saw that Officer Brian Encinia had crossed multiple lines, and was there to do much more than simply give her a ticket, she grabbed her phone and began filming him.
The video is just 39 seconds long, but it’s literally the most important piece of evidence in the case, not just against Brian Encinia, but against the Waller County Jail, and the local prosecutors who concealed it.
And that they kept this evidence a secret for four years — never releasing it to the public until local journalists started digging and found it — that they kept this evidence a secret from her family, from her dear mother and sisters, from the attorneys for her family, is not just disgusting, it’s deeply unethical is speaks to a coverup.
I’m going to play the audio. I’ve shared the video across our social media channels. It’s painful to watch. Without any reason, Brian Encinia opens the door to Sandra Bland’s car. That was illegal actually, because an officer has to have reasonable suspicion of a crime to do so and no such thing existed. He opens the door, then pulls his Taser out of the holster, turns it on, and then sticks it right in her face and tells her “I’m going to light you up.”
Let me play the audio for you, then come back and break it down.
In his report, which we always knew was a lie, State Trooper Brian Encinia said that he feared for his life and safety with Sandra Bland on multiple occasions. Of course that was a lie. And when he said so on his official reports, he committed perjury. When he forced Sandra Bland to turn off her phone — which she did after 39 seconds — he again did so in violation of the law.
You are allowed to film an officer. She did nothing, absolutely nothing, to warrant an arrest, and you are allowed to film the police if you aren’t under arrest. But again — none of this was about the law. This was all about white power and the need for a white man to show this young Black woman who was boss.
Making her get out of the car was about that. Making her put her phone down was about that. And as soon as Sandra Bland turned off her phone, Officer Brian Encinia began his assault of her. We can see just a little bit of it from his dash cam and he brutally slams her right on her head.
And because we’ve been forced to speculate, I have to say that slamming her head on the concrete may have caused a traumatic brain injury right there. Sandra Bland also suffered from epilepsy, which is centered in the brain. Slamming her on her head could’ve worsened the nerve problems there. Again, because we clearly aren’t dealing with honest people, we’ve been forced to make educated guesses.
What I know is that at the end of this video I hear Sandra Bland telling this officer that she plans on taking him to court. And I think it was that statement, combined with her understanding her rights and letting this officer know that she knew her rights – that made his blood boil even more.
Remember, she was pulled over for failure to use a turn signal. And Bernie Sanders said it on Twitter last night: if Sandra Bland was white, she’d be alive right now. Period.
Brian Encinia never would’ve opened the car door of a white woman for failure to use her turn signal. He never would’ve taken out a stun gun on a white woman, turned it on, stuck it in her face, and told her he was gonna light her up. He never would’ve slammed a white woman on her head. And we know this because he literally never did any such thing to a white woman in his entire career. I checked.
Brian Encinia knew he was being filmed. The prosecutors in this case, who were supposed to be prosecuting him — and protecting Sandra Bland who was his victim — hid this video from the public and from the family. And that gets to a central point that I need to break down.
(Break it down music)
The United States has 2,300 District Attorneys. And I’d say about 2285 of them, in other words, about 99.9% of them, are so closely connected to police officers and police departments, that they will never, ever hold them accountable. And let me surprise you for a minute, because I don’t think I’ve studied any issue in my life more than what’s happening with district attorneys — I actually think it’s unfair to expect them to prosecute police fairly. They literally work directly with police officers every single day, all day. Judges too. They are the primary witnesses in millions of cases that pass through their offices. The reports come from them. And they are close. I used to say that police and prosecutors were like the left hand and right hand on the same body, but they are really just fingers on the same hand. They work together. They are members of the same team.
Let me give you a real transparent analogy. Think of the one human being you love on earth more than anybody else. For me it could be my wife, my mother, my babies. Now say the one human being you love more than anybody else broke the law — and they put you in charge of the investigation — and you got to decide what the charges were and whether or not the case was dropped.
What do you think you’d do? If it was your decision? If I was in charge of investigating my own mother and I had the power to drop the charges? If I had the power to tuck the evidence against my mother away in a file somewhere, I might do it. It’s dumb for you to even expect me to be fair and balanced if I’m in charge of investigating my mother. Do you know what I’m trying to say?
And that’s what we see with prosecutors and police. They were supposed to be protecting Sandra Bland and her family, but police and prosecutors are so close, that they really only end up protecting each other.
I’ll close today with three policy ideas that would solve this.
Nothing is stronger than a civilian review board of police and prosecutors that has full subpoena power and has the binding power to indict and bring charges. These are being built in a few major cities right now. We are still searching for the one that has the strongest powers — and of course police and prosecutors fight back — but we need these civilian review boards everywhere.
District Attorneys offices need a separate division that monitors and prosecutes police and prosecutor misconduct. They have to somehow function autonomously – apart from the machine – so that they can be unbiased and hold people accountable.
We need to change the laws, city by city, county by county, piece by piece, that strips police of their broad powers to use force anytime and every time they feel like it. This officer should’ve only been allowed to give her a ticket and move on. Period. But the law gives cops broad, nebulous powers to harass people and abuse people — and we have to really break this down and define what they can and cannot do in a more specific way. And I’d like for us to build this plan together. How does that sound?
I’ve gotta run, but I’ll be sure to update you all if I hear any more about Sandra’s case.
Thank you all for making it all the way through this episode of The Breakdown!
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Produced by Willis Polk II
Additional Instrumentation by: Christian “Idrys” Shannon & Lance “Lance Fury” Powlis
Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library
Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush & Jason Coffey
Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg
Contains elements from:
“The Prodigal” by JustMe