Anyone who doubts that the U.S. criminal justice system is in crisis need look no further than Waller County, Texas, where a grand jury has declined to issue any indictments in connection with the death of Sandra Bland.
Ms. Bland, a vibrant 28-year-old graduate of Prairie View University, who had returned to Texas to accept a job at her alma mater, was verbally and physically abused by white trooper Brian Encinia in the course of a routine traffic stop. She was arrested and held in the Waller County jail, where she was found hanging in her cell after three days. The local authorities say it was suicide, but her family and friends believe there was foul play.
Six months ago, NOW called for a federal investigation into the circumstances of Sandra Bland’s death, and we renew that call today. The public deserves an honest and transparent accounting. What was said and done to Sandra Bland during those three days at that county jail? What help did she request? Were her requests denied or delayed? Who made those decisions?
To gain a full understanding of Sandra Bland’s death, it is also imperative to take Waller County’s ugly history of racism into account. The Ku Klux Klan burrowed into the area in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and lynchings of Black people took place there from the late 1800s to the early 1950s. White officials’ targeting of Black residents continues right into the present, exemplified in the repeated recent efforts to suppress the vote of Prairie View University students through unlawful intimidation, restriction and regulation.
Officials in Texas failed Sandra Bland, from the moment Trooper Encinia began verbally and physically abusing her to her death in custody three days later. Their apparent unwillingness to hold anyone accountable for her needless suffering and death is not acceptable. With the whole country now watching this case, it is time for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in.