The death of Sandra Bland in a jail cell in 2015 has proved a catalyst for sweeping legislation that targets racial-profiling in Texas.
Rep. Garnet Coleman submitted House Bill 2702, dubbed the Sandra Bland Act, in March. The Statesman reported how the bill would strengthen racial-profiling laws in Texas. It would also prevent people being jailed for fine-only offenses and curtail police powers during traffic stops.
Some legislators believe the bill would have saved Bland’s life. In late March, the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety heard public testimony on two bills that would make traffic infractions like speeding and the failure to use a turn signal punishable only via a fine.
Sandra Bland, a black woman, was pulled over by a state trooper in July 2015. She changed lanes without signaling in Texas. The situation quickly deteriorated. After taking her information and returning to her car window to give her the traffic ticket, the trooper told Bland she appeared to be irritated. When she refused to put out a cigarette, he ordered her out of her car.
The trooper arrested her. She was charged with resisting arrest and put in a cell.
Bland was found hanged in a Waller County Jail cell three days after the traffic stop. An investigation found she took her life. Coleman said she would not have died had the reforms in HB 2702 been in place two years ago. He said.
“It took us a long time to draft this piece of legislation. We wanted to get it right.”
Coleman submitted a 55-page bill. Its provisions include:
- Requiring police and troopers to monitor traffic stops and officers to find out if a disproportionate number of minority members were pulled over. Officers in violation would receive extra training and counseling. If this failed and the problems persist, they could be subject to a six-month suspension.
- Police officers would no longer be allowed to stop vehicles for a traffic violation as a “pretext” to investigate other crimes. The only exception would be when there was a strong suspicion another offense was committed.
- County sheriffs would be required to prepare a monthly report on suicides at their jails, attempted suicides, and other incidents like injuries, sexual assaults, and use of force. An outside law enforcement agency would investigate such incidents.
- Police officers and troopers would be required to take courses in de-escalation tactics, limiting the use of force.
Racial-Profiling in Texas – How an Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help You
There is considerable evidence of racial-profiling in Texas and elsewhere. In the past, we have noted how policies such as stop and frisk can lead to racial-profiling.
In the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on Duane Buck, a man from Houston who ended up on Death Row, the justices blocked Buck’s execution because of racial-profiling by a defense expert at his trial.