In the little more than a year since we first saw the dashcam video of Sandra Bland’s traffic stop, we’ve thought about and talked about the moments when everything could have been different. The routine traffic stop for a failure to signal didn’t have to end in her arrest and death in a Waller County jail cell.
We’ve heard the arguments over whether the officer had the authority to order Bland to extinguish her cigarette in her own car, or whether she had the right to say no. We’ve talked about whether it was lawful to forcibly remove her from the vehicle and whether there was probable cause to arrest her in the first place.
Legal experts disagree on many of the rights and wrongs captured by the trooper’s dashcam, but this is what we know: Bland will never have her day in court, she’ll never get to show a judge and jury the evidence, and it didn’t have to turn out that way.
Before and after Bland’s high-profile case, there have been other stories in the news about civilian interactions with police officers gone wrong. Most recently, we’ve heard the stories of Keith Lamont Scott and Terence Crutcher.
As we fast approach a new legislative session, these stories aren’t going away. Indeed, they loom large in communities, among members of law enforcement, among politicians and among civilian communities.
There is a lively debate underway about how to prevent another needless incident like the one that led to the death of Sandra Bland. Now, after many legislative hearings on the issue, the chairman of the Texas criminal justice committee has come up with an idea which he plans to propose formally. Sen. John Whitmire wants to introduce a bill to compel Texas schools to teach ninth graders how to interact with police if and when they are stopped.
“I’m trying to capture young people before they start driving,” Whitmire says, “when you can impress on young people that they have a responsibility as drivers to certainly obey the law, but if they come in contact with law enforcement these are the expectations. These are the rules of the game”
Whitmire says the state is working on educating law enforcement as well.
“They’re getting a lot of focus on de-escalation of involvement with citizens,” he says. “They’ve got a tough job and I think there’s a lot of focus on the officers and their best practices, but we’ve gotta work on our young people and what you do with your hands. It oughta be ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘No, sir.’ And then if you have an officer that you believe is acting improper. You don’t confront the officer on the street, you do it in an administrative office the next day.”
Whitmire says the idea for the bill came strictly out of his own head. He says he’s trying to save the lives of people like Bland.
When Whitmire gets pulled over by law enforcement, he says he follows his own advice. It’s “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.”
“Officers can be impressed with someone that treats them with respect,” Whitmire says. “And they can also react to somebody that’s got an attitude with them. So I’m not trying to reprogram human behavior – hell, maybe I am if you want to take it there. We’re nowhere where we need to be and I don’t claim that what I envision is gonna solve the problem, it’s just a piece of it.”
Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.