• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • July 24, 2015 in Columnists

    Sandra Bland’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated, and it matters

    It would be so very easy to fuel a column about Sandra Bland purely on emotion: What happened to her on July 10 in Waller County, Texas for merely not signaling a lane change was outrageous. What followed was astounding. And her apparent suicide after three days in jail for such a pittance is beyond tragic. But as it pertains to our painfully obvious race issue in this country, fiery emotions don’t solve anything. Cool heads are in order. This week, I decided to turn my keyboard over to my brain rather than my heart, which is furious.

    First, I needed to understand how cops tick, so I chatted with my favorite retired police officer. If you don’t try to understand the opposing viewpoint, you end up in your own personal echo chamber, where there’s no chance of seeing things clearly, let alone truly understanding anything or solving a problem.

    Cops, you see, aren’t like you and me. They’re a different animal. True, most are fine, noble people and it’s less than one percent of them that commit 98 percent of the outrage. But all cops, to some degree, are predatory. Once they pull us over, their antennae are searching for any reason to arrest us and, idiots that we are, we give it to them.

    So, I asked my cop friend, is it illegal to backtalk a cop? No, he said, unless he orders you to be quiet. Keep talking, and you’re disobeying a police officer. Further, such behavior may raise suspicion that you’re under the influence. Now he’s got two reasons to slap on the handcuffs. Shout at him while he’s cuffing you, and you’re “disturbing the peace.” Touch him and you’re “assaulting a police officer.” Struggle because the handcuffs hurt, and you’re “resisting arrest.” If your skin is black, these scenarios increase exponentially. Our laws have become skewed for the benefit of law enforcement, not civilians.

    Although the officer’s behavior in the video is shocking, Bland’s behavior in the presence of this class-one a-hole of an officer on a power trip (and yes, my friend confirmed they do exist) led to her arrest. I’m not saying she deserved such horrific abuse. I’m merely pointing out the cause and effect, and how the law allows it.

    Here’s the thing: When an officer stops you or confronts you, unless you want to go to jail, keep your mouth shut. If you’re asked a question, answer it in as few words as possible and if it’s self-incriminatory, stay silent. Secondly, do whatever he tells you to do. Any resistance, however minor, opens up a Pandora’s box of laws that will be used against you.

    A cop is like a lion: If it’s staring at you, you look like food. Slapping it on the nose is a bad plan. Ditto for fighting it, because it’s stronger than you. Ditto for outrunning it, because it’s faster than you, and if it isn’t, its bullets are. Your objective, whether cops or lions, is to get out of that encounter alive. You can scream a blue streak later.

    Had Bland stayed silent and just signed the ticket, she’d probably still be alive today. That said, this was Texas, where “law” is relative, and she encountered an officer surging with adrenaline and ego. Sadly, had Bland faced Officer A-hole in court, chances are she would’ve been found guilty. Judges are loathe to discredit testimony by police officers because time and again, they’re invaluable witnesses in the courtroom. Add to this that some cops lie, even under oath. And yes, that’s perjury, and against the law. And if you don’t believe it happens, oh sweet pea, your naivety is so precious I could pinch its chubby cheek.

    Police officers are experts at finding nuances in the law if it means they can snag another ticket or arrest; prey, if you will. They’re all about the law except when they break it themselves, and the most glaring example is the trampling of the Fourth Amendment. Can we all quit jerking off over the Second Amendment for a moment, and consider the foundation on which it stands: the Fourth Amendment — “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    Cornell University Law School’s website notes, “Probable cause is a requirement found in the Fourth Amendment that must usually be met before police make an arrest, conduct a search, or receive a warrant. Courts usually find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed (for an arrest) or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched (for a search),” and that “The Fourth Amendment requires that any arrest be based on probable cause.”

    Where was the probable cause in Sandra Bland’s arrest? If not signaling while changing lanes constitutes “probable cause” for arrest, people, we’re one hiccup away from having to “show our papers” on demand. In that disturbing video, Bland declares she’s not under arrest, and the cop shouts back that she is. For what? My friend said officers aren’t required to say why they’re arresting you while it’s happening. That comes later at the jailhouse. However, he noted that “resisting arrest” can’t be the stand-alone reason for an arrest. It can only follow an actual arrest, which, according to the Fourth Amendment, requires probable cause.

    While it’s cathartic to shout “Black Lives Matter,” it’s not addressing the core issue, which isn’t skin color. It’s the widespread and wanton violation of the Fourth Amendment, for which law enforcement and the courts are complicit. The Supreme Court has tackled some weighty issues this year. Hey SCOTUS — how about scrutinizing the Fourth Amendment? Better yet — enforcing it!

    We the People can’t legislate hate. But we can demand that the Constitution be upheld. “The Fourth Amendment Matters” — for people of all colors.






      • Maya Spier Stiles North

      • July 24, 2015 at 9:51 pm
      • Reply

      Nailed it. And yeah, shut up and be polite. You don’t nick yourself when you’re in the tank with sharks. You just don’t. You can swear all you want when you’re safely out of reach.

      • Agreed. And, I believe that racism in law enforcement exists. DOUBLE the reason not to nick yourself amongst sharks.

      • Valerie engelman

      • July 26, 2015 at 12:18 pm
      • Reply

      She may have just been emo, but I would have been angrier if she was on crack and her next stop a nursery school where carnage ensued. She had no control over her emotions, and was being abusive. Did she physically attack him? I think he wanted to be on his way more than her. I don’t think any job should require you to be assaulted and allow it, especially law enforcement.

      The other police officer on the scene said she saw the assault on the arresting officer right after it happened. If it was your son’s job to keep us safe, would you want him to be kicked while doing it, and decide to not want justice?

      It’s so easy to forget how dangerous a traffic stop is for an officer, and how many violent criminals are caught during one. That we know more of her hisory now is just that wonderful 20/20 hindsight that people who survive these situations enjoy.

      Her own cellmate stated that she was crying and depressed the night before, and that she felt the guards were good, fair, and were having no trouble with Sandra. She felt sure it was suicide.

      It would be too easy to judge his decision to detain her as ego alone. She was acting very strangely. I hope her family isn’t attacking law enforcement because of the guilt they may feel and want to avoid for not bonding her out, for three days, after she had been told they would be there in an hour. That it what was on her mind hours before she was found.

      • It is true – her behavior opened the door to what happened next. She handed the cop the key. And it is true – traffic stops are dangerous, and cops are hyper alert. And, if she did in fact commit suicide… it is true, she was emotionally unstable.
        It all still comes down to… if you are pulled over, keep your mouth shut, sit still and do as you’re told.

          • Valerie

          • July 26, 2015 at 1:04 pm

          You can also put yourself in a bad situation by not knowing your rights. I was with a friend and a cop asked to search their parked car, and they said “no.” (which was a legal right at that point/ time/ whatever because we were just hanging out doing nothing illegal.)

        • SEE what I mean? They have no right to do that! So… what did the cops do?

          • Valerie engelman

          • July 28, 2015 at 8:16 pm

          He said ok. It’s ok for him to ask. I think where i diverge looking at this is I could see him being concerned about her as a threat, when she said she just got to town, and when she was agreesive he was picking up on her strange behavior, and when she reached under the passenger seat to avoid getting out of the car, very huge threat there. The Texas civil liberties said he may have the right to do what he did, if he did it feeling she was a threat. Looking at it, many would feel that he was being provoced, so obviously he was just getting revenge, but I could follow his train of though another way. Cops get spit on all the time. He did not seem like a hair trigger ahole to me. But many in law enforcement mentioned he could have de-escalated, and waited for a back up car before proceeding, which does seem wise.

          Growing up in Davis with nothing to do, the cops got carpel tunnel dumping our beers out when they found us in parks, it happened so often. Yet never once was one remotely rude. There we are again, there we are again. Totally professional, checking our little eyeballs with their flashlights for whatever. I ran with a little rainbow crowd too, no one was bothered.

          I just don’t think he acted out of ego, but agree he has a lot to learn. I also think motorists should not be learning what their rights are during a stop, it should be part of getting your driver’s licence. I know cops get a high rate of depression from being abused verbally, and just don’t think we should have them be the ones to explain, yes I have the right to do this. Also think of the money spent on all the time this conversation takes, but especially the trajedies like this that can arise.

        • Kelvin

        • July 28, 2015 at 11:13 am
        • Reply

        Yeah, traffic stops are stressing for cops. You know who else they’re stressful for? They’re stressful for the people being stopped. It was stressful when my little brother was ordered out of a car at gunpoint when Sac PD thought he was a suspect in a crime. Very stressful.

        This event hinged on a cigarette. Look at the transcript:

        Encinia: OK, ma’am. (Pause.) You OK?

        Bland: I’m waiting on you. This is your job. I’m waiting on you. When’re you going to let me go?

        Encinia: I don’t know, you seem very really irritated.

        Bland: I am. I really am. I feel like it’s crap what I’m getting a ticket for. I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over and you stop me. So yeah, I am a little irritated, but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket, so [inaudible] ticket.

        Encinia: Are you done?

        Bland: You asked me what was wrong, now I told you.

        Encinia: OK.

        Bland: So now I’m done, yeah.

        Encinia: You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don’t mind?

        Bland: I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?

        Encinia: Well you can step on out now.

        Bland: I don’t have to step out of my car.

        Encinia: Step out of the car.

        Do you mind putting out your cigarette? If you don’t mind? That was a question. She obviously minded and asked why she had to put out her cigarette in her car. It was at that point he’s ordering her out of the car. And I think, to Debra’s point on the constitutionality, that could’ve been challenged in court.

        The other cops said she saw the assault? Of course she’s going to say that. What else is she going to say? We’ll never really know because the officer took Bland from in front of the camera.

        I always tell people to just focus on going home when stopped by police. Don’t do or say anything to jeopardize your freedom or safety. But one of the things that bothers me about this case and even the advice I’ve given for years is that what we’re saying us black people don’t have the right to be angry or irritated during a police interaction. And if you keep everything else the same but substitute a white woman for Bland, does Officer Encina order her out of the car?

        • Overall…. cops are getting more aggressive. But if you are black, or also Hispanic, the chances of the cop crossing the line of what is acceptable is exponentially worse. I know of white people who’ve been treated like dogs by police, but by the numbers…. it is worse for black people because you have the whole racism (subconscious or conscious) angle playing into it.
          That officer could EASILY have diffused that situation, and just let her be angry and walked away. If she was white, would that have been more likely? Probably.
          But… in the end… I still say the problem lies with law enforcement.

      • Madgew

      • July 28, 2015 at 1:44 pm
      • Reply

      I agree that black people aren’t allowed to be angry but white people can. Also, officers are taught or should be on de escalating and his tone with her would have set anyone off. He was arrogant and quite happy I believe in showing power. I also hope they get to the bottom of all of it but, am sure we will never know the truth. So tragically sad she is dead for whatever reason.

      • Such an unnecessary loss of life. What if she WAS emotionally unstable? Aren’t officers supposed to know how to deal with this? Deescalate, as you said? What the hell??

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