The Texas Senate unanimously passed a significantly diluted Sandra Bland Act Thursday, and now the bill will go to the Texas House of Representatives, KHOU.com reports.
The bill has been stripped of any measure of police accountability, including consent searches and pretext stops. But lawmakers believe it is still a good first step.
The legislation requires officers to undergo training in mental illness, and officers and jailers to have de-escalation training. Texas counties will also have the autonomy to create programs that would place people with mental illnesses in facilities other than jails.
“The idea that it actually has passed out of one house means that it will have an impact because it will give people encouragement, and that’s the big impact,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), who composed the original 55-paged bill. “Encouragement to try to continue to make change.”
Bland’s sister, however, doesn’t want “encouragement”; she wants justice.
“What the bill does in its current state renders Sandy invisible,” said Sharon Cooper, Bland’s older sister, in an interview with the Associated Press on Friday night. “It’s frustrating and gut-wrenching.”
Cooper, speaking on behalf of Bland’s family, said the legislation now “isolates the very person it seeks to honor.”
“It painfully misses the mark for us,” Cooper said.
As previously reported by The Root, on July 10, 2015, white Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia pulled Bland over under the flimsy pretext that she had failed to signal when she switched lanes to move out of his way.
Encinia instigated, agitated and escalated his encounter with Bland—first by saying that she “seemed very irritated,” then by ordering her to put out her cigarette in her car, and then by forcefully removing her from the car under imminent threat of “lighting her up” with a Taser, before brutalizing her on the side of the road and ultimately arresting her on the charge of resisting arrest.
Bland, 28, was found hanged in a Waller County, Texas, jail cell three days later, and her death was ruled a suicide. The circumstances surrounding Bland’s death were suspicious, with family members, friends and activists in the Movement for Black Lives voicing serious doubts that she killed herself.
Still, let there be no doubt: The state of Texas killed Sandra Bland, whether jail officials used a makeshift noose or not.
Sandra Bland was pulled over because she was a black woman.
Sandra Bland was physically abused on the side of the road because she was a black woman.
Sandra Bland was arrested because she was a black woman.
Sandra Bland is dead because she was a black woman.
Encinia was ultimately fired from the Texas Department of Public Safety after he “failed to refute disciplinary charges,” including failing to act courteously, prolonging Bland’s detention, violating general orders and perjury.
As previously reported by The Root, before the Senate voted on the bill, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said that it needed to move forward not only for her daughter but also for those people who believe that Texas is a dangerous state to live in.
“I need you to think about what you have the power and ability to do today,” Reed-Veal said at the time.
The Senate did not fully use that power, instead bowing to pressure from a law-enforcement community that felt “punitively attacked” by the legislation.
“It was a straight-out attack on all law enforcement over a tragic suicide in a county jail,” said Charley Wilkson, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas. “Appropriately, now we’re talking about mental health diversion.”
Not so appropriately (but predictably), the bill is not addressing racial profiling, holding police officers accountable for their actions, or the racist occupation of oppressed communities that makes hypermilitarized law-enforcement agencies believe that they have the right to play vengeful gods.
There are, justifiably, Bland supporters who organized around the passage of the bill who now don’t believe that it deserves the honor of her name.
“I don’t think it’s worthy of her name,” said organizer Fatima Mann to AP. “It should be a bill that actually takes away the issue that caused her death. Not this.”