Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Sandra Bland Act into law Thursday, in what was supposed to be a decisive move to address the issues that led to Bland’s death.
As the Texas Tribune notes, the act obligates county jails to channel individuals with mental-health and substance abuse issues toward treatment, and to make it easier for those with mental illness or disability to get bond. The law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, will also require independent law enforcement agencies to investigate jail deaths, and require that officers receive de-escalation training.
However, the act was notoriously stripped of key provisions that specifically addressed police encounters. Provisions so crucial given that Bland, a black woman, somehow wound up dead in a county jail after being arrested over what was meant to be a routine traffic stop.
Bland, 28, had just moved from Chicago to start a new job in Texas when state Trooper Brian Encinia pulled her over in Waller County, Texas, for failing to signal. The encounter quickly escalated when Bland refused to put out her cigarette. Video footage of the encounter showed that Encinia then ordered her out of her vehicle. Bland again refused, at which point Encinia threatened to “yank” her out of her car, and ultimately threatened to “light [her] up” while pointing his Taser at her.
In the end, Bland was arrested and locked up. Three days after her arrest, she was found dead in her jail cell, with her death ruled a suicide.
The Texas Senate version of the bill by state Sen. John Whitmire of Houston removed provisions that would have required additional proof for stopping and searching vehicles and prevented arrests over offenses that could be handled by a fine. As the Tribune puts it, the bill in that moment mostly became a mental-health bill, which easily made its way through the Senate and the House of Representatives, without opposition.
Bland’s family expressed disappointment in the turn that the bill had taken at that point.
“What the bill does in its current state renders Sandy invisible,” said Sharon Cooper, Bland’s older sister, in an interview in May. “It’s frustrating and gut-wrenching.”
Still, lawmakers insist that the law is a good first step. Democratic state Rep. Granet Coleman of Houston, who introduced the original, eventually gutted, bill, wrote in a statement after Abbott signed it, saying that the law increases public safety.
“The Sandra Bland Act will prevent traffic stops from escalating by ensuring that all law enforcement officers receive de-escalation training for all situations as part of their basic training and continuing education,” Coleman said.
Read more at the Texas Tribune.