Noting the historically contentious relationship between Black communities and law enforcement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch discussed how Sandra Bland’s death is a prime example of the concern that police encounters will end fatally.
During interviews with MSNBC and ABC, set to air Monday, Lynch said that what she hopes will come from Bland’s arrest and death is a real conversation and reform of policing tactics.
“The one thing that has come out of this tragic, tragic situation — the loss of life of this young woman — has been a discussion about specific police techniques.” she told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “Many of the things that we see police departments doing across the country, frankly, is working on exactly the type of techniques that would have been helpful here. As part of my community policing tour, I’ve talked to officers who have said, one of things that they have appreciated most is training in de-escalation tactics, to sort of get away from the classic let’s just stop and arrest or chase and arrest, and figure out how can we calm a situation down.”
But the perception of police officers, often accompanied by a fear that many don’t leave these interactions alive, will be hard to change, Lynch suggested. Bland’s death, Lynch told Pierre Thomas of ABC News, “highlights the concern of many in the black community that a routine stop for many members of the black community is not handled with the same professionalism and courtesy that other people may get from the police.”
“We have a situation where many minority communities for so long have felt that law enforcement was coming in essentially to enforce laws against them, not to protect them,” she continued. “I do think that what has been a important part of the debate in Miss Bland’s death has been the discussions that we’ve seen from community members and police leaders alike…about the importance of training and deescalating incidents.”
Bland was arrested July 10 after an encounter with Texas trooper Brian Encinia escalated. Bland, who had just moved to Texas to start a new job at her alma mater, was stopped for failure to signal while changing lanes. The situation intensified after Encinia ordered Bland to put out her cigarette. When she did not follow his order, he demanded she exit her vehicle, which she refused, stating that she was not under arrest. Eventually, Encinia threatened to stun Bland with a Taser.
Bland was arrested, taken to the Waller County jail, and held on $5,000 bond. Three days later, she was found dead in her jail cell. Initial autopsy reports indicate she committed suicide by hanging, but speculation about jail procedure and questions surrounding her manner of death have sparked concern that law enforcement officials involved in Bland’s arrest and custody aren’t being truthful.
Though the Justice Department has been asked to investigate, Lynch did not confirm if they would do so.
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