Sandra Bland was buried over the weekend, dead as a result of driving while Black in Waller County, Texas — previously best known for being a rail-head for moving slave-picked cotton north. They’re done with her body, but the murder of her character continues unabated.
Following State Trooper Brian Encinia’s fit of pique that landed Sandra in jail over failing to put out a cigarette, Waller County’s first Assistant District Attorney, Warren Diepraam, gave a character assassination press conference to tell the world that Sandra Bland had marijuana in her system, 30 healed or healing cuts on her forearm (the insinuation being self-mutilation) and no signs of struggle — which is ironic considering she was arrested for assaulting the officer who pulled her over.
I have never seen medical examiners work so quickly. But in this case, it’s apparently to absolve officials of guilt, as indicated by Diepraam’s statement video (please be advised that the video regarding Sandra Bland’s autopsy on Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 website was offensively preceded by an advertisement regarding monkeys at the zoo when I viewed it). Diepraam pointed out that marijuana is a “mood amplifier” and that “ideas in a person’s mind could be amplified.”
Prosecutor Warren Diepraam
Trooper Encinia, who pulled over Sandra for failing to use her turn signal, has not been supported by some Texas law enforcement officials. “Regardless of the situation, the DPS state trooper has an obligation to exhibit professionalism and be courteous,” said DPS Director Steve McCraw. Encinia was a state trooper for less than one year, and his digital presence seems to have disappeared. We do not know if he had marijuana in his system — which may have explained his “amplified” reaction to a woman smoking a cigarette.
A reaction, by the way, which occurred after his official business for the lane change without turn signal was concluded — making the subsequent interaction (“amplification” if you will) an apparent violation of the April Supreme Court decision on Rodriguez versus the United States, which dictates that police interaction is concluded once the reason for the traffic stop has been dealt with.
Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith, responsible for the jail where Sandra was held for three days before she was found dead, was fired from a previous job (police chief of Hempstead, Texas) for racism — and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards said they found that the Waller County Jail didn’t meet two areas of the state’s minimum jail standards. In his current position, he called Rev. Pendleton a “dumb ass” in a text response to a request for statistics on the demographics of traffic stops. We do not know if Sheriff Smith had marijuana in his system, which may explain his “amplified” behavior — and the gigantic trash cans with trash liners in each cell.
Sheriff Glenn Smith
But this isn’t unusual. In Ferguson, former police officer Wilson testified that he felt like a child in the arms of Hulk Hogan — even though Wilson and the teenager he shot to death, Mike Brown, were both 6’4” tall. Wilson, too, had his Internet presence mysteriously expunged as the police chief and prosecutor churned out copious information smearing the character of teenager Mike Brown. Wilson slunk out of town after collecting close to $1 million in donations. His boss was fired, but the prosecutor kept his job — and we have no idea how high (or not) any of the involved were.
In Cleveland, police officer Timothy Loehmann said in a statement (regarding his shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death): “He gave me no choice. He reached for the gun and there was nothing I could do.” Yet the video shows that former police officer Loehmann didn’t have the time to see anybody reaching for anything, as he jumped out of his car and started blasting away within seconds. Much was made of Tamir Rice weighing 180 pounds. In his preceding police job, Loehmann was allowed to resign as separation proceedings were underway after an incident of mental instability at a pistol range. We do not know if Loehmann had marijuana in his system when he shot Tamir Rice. We don’t know if the people responsible for screening Loehmann had marijuana in their systems when they failed to look at his personnel jacket in the hiring process.
I could go on and on, but the point is that in every case that sparked recent protests — Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, Baltimore — the victims had their character smeared, while the officials in charge never had their character questioned — or their blood tested. Even more disturbing, the bodies of the dead people were made to be the object of derision — using Black stereotyping.
The difference this time? Social media is holding the public’s attention and keeping things on track. It is important, however, to understand the pattern for what it is. A constant stream of denigrating Black victims to justify the behavior of white men in public power structures is part of American history — a counter-productive, justice-inhibiting, freedom-destroying tradition that must come to an end.
For more of Luke’s columns, visit DiversityInc.