In January, I posted on some of the latest developments in the case of Sandra Bland. This month I offer another brief update, along with additional resources to grasp the continued importance of the Bland story. Overall, students continue to remain active in protests calling for justice and accountability for all law enforcement entities associated with the Bland case, including Sandra Bland’s sister Shavon. Similarly, journalists and writers work to connect the dots between Bland’s case and related issues of violence against Black women.
On February 18, there was a hearing in federal judge David Hittner’s courtroom on a motion to delay the civil trial, which involves the Bland’s family’s wrongful death lawsuit filed against Waller County and ex-Texas Department of Public Safety officer Brian Encinia. As The Guardian reported, and Jet detailed, at the hearing the FBI produced a heavily redacted Texas Rangers report—documentation which contains details about Bland’s arrest and incarceration that have not been made public. Judge Hittner required a less redacted Rangers report, and demanded that Bland’s legal team have access to it and other video evidence the Texas Rangers viewed as part of their investigation. At this time, in January 2017 the civil trial of ex-DPS officer Brian Encinia is scheduled to begin.
In late February, Waller County, Texas, held local elections, and Sheriff R. Glenn Smith, the Sheriff in whose jail Sandra Bland died, was re-elected. Waller County had a chance to remake the future, but instead the voters approved of Smith’s law enforcement activities, which have included a documented history of racist policing and rank intimidation of local activists and citizens.
A third development since January: the Texas Department of Public Safety officially terminated Brian Encinia on March 2. Numerous outlets reported on this event, including Democracy Now!, Colorlines, The Christian Science Monitor, The Texas Tribune, and Huffington Post.
Two weeks later, at an arraignment hearing at Waller County Courthouse, ex-DPS officer Encinia pleaded not guilty to the perjury charge handed down by a Waller County grand jury in January. See details and descriptions from The Texas Tribune, Atlanta Black Star, Los Angeles Times, Russia Today, National Public Radio, and Essence. Outside of the courthouse in a National Black United Front organized action, activists gathered in support of Bland’s family and sang protest songs, fiercely called for justice, stood in solidarity, and shared thoughts and reflections on what it meant to #sayhername. The next hearing in the criminal case is in May.
On March 30, Sam Houston State University held a program called #SayHerName: The Sandra Bland Movement, at which a sorority sister of Bland spoke along with a Prairie View A & M University professor and local clergy activist. The evening’s event featured personal reflections on Bland’s political consciousness as a college student, life on campus at Prairie View A & M, local organizing on behalf of Sandra Bland and her family, and the importance of what it means to interrogate, and exorcise the demons of white supremacy and white privilege. In a riveting question and answer period, students asked about the facts of the case, shared personal accounts of organizing, and pledged solidarity with other college groups in shared initiatives for racial, social, and economic justice. View the entire #SayHerName: The Sandra Bland Movement program here.
On April 13, a panel of lawyers and other legal experts—a panel convened at the request of Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith—released a report on procedures and practices at Waller County Jail. While state senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) called for reforms in February, the panel’s report offered extensive suggestions. As reported by the Houston Chronicle, Huffington Post, Austin American- Statesman, and Russia Today, this is part of a larger discussion of criminal justice changes proposed in relation to the loss, abuse, and inhumane treatment of Black lives.
Finally, on April 15, just off the campus of Prairie View A & M, a ceremony that celebrated Sandra Bland’s life unveiled the signage for the newly-named Sandra Bland Parkway. The result of an activist initiative in the fall of 2015 at the suggestion of Bland’s mother Geneva Reed-Veal, Prairie View City Council members voted 4-1 to approve the name change. Local activist DeWayne Charleston emceed the event, and speakers included members of the National Black United Front along with members of the Bland family. Reed-Veal noted the important symbolism that Sandra Bland Parkway holds, but reminded those present that symbolism is not justice so the work continues as people continue to #Sayhername and ask #WhatHappenedtoSandraBland.