“It’s nothing that’s vocalized and it’s not expressed, but there’s still a lot of racism,” said Sandy Buller. Speaking with the Huffington Post the Waller County resident added, “Especially in people who are 60 years old and older.”
It’s a sentiment shared by DeWayne Charleston, a former Waller County judge who recently told The Guardian, “This is the most racist county in the state of Texas…which is probably one of the most racist states in the country.”
While Texas is certainly not the first state to be accused of such, especially in the south, Waller County in particular has earned a reputation for racial and political inequality. Located roughly 40 minutes outside of the city of Houston, despite being home to famed HBCU Prairie View A&M University, it’s also home to what Charleston referred to as “cradle to the grave” racism. A term born from the (unofficial) practice of maintaining segregated cemeteries.
Once predominately Black, it was an area that initially. effectively implemented “whites only” primaries, barring Blacks from participating in the voting process. Years later, Prairie View students would fight for their own voting rights within the county.
Following a job offer from the university, Illinois native Sandra Bland had decided to return to the area. But after failing to use a turn signal a simple traffic stop resulted in a chain of events that would later claim her life. Now her family has been left struggling to understand why a 28-year-old woman would commit suicide inside of a Texas jail, as speculation regarding her sudden death has exploded into yet another national debate.
With facts and conspiracy theories alike floating freely across Social Media, there have been far more questions than answers. A video of the incident shows Bland initially seated in her car explaining “You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over and you stop me. So yeah, I am a little irritated, but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket…”
After refusing to put out a cigarette the scene suddenly shifted left as State Trooper Brian Encinia instructed Bland to exit her car followed by threats of “I will light you up” as he prepared his stun gun. Bland would be caught on the losing end of that heated exchange and charged with resisting arrest, despite the fact that no rights had been read. Less than three days later, she was found dead in what authorities assert was a suicide by hanging.
According to Texas law resisting arrest can be applied to a variety of situations whether you come into contact with an officer or not, leading some to question whether Bland’s response further provoked the situation, though authorities have declared the arrest unlawful. An earlier ruling by the Supreme Court seems to support this decision, as SCOTUS decided in Rodriguez vs. United States that police do not have the authority to extend the time of a routine traffic stop, unless there is reason to believe that an additional crime has been committed.
The involvement of county sheriff Glenn Smith, who was previously fired as Hempstead’s chief of police following claims of excessive force and racism, has caused questions as well. Charged with investigating Bland’s death he recently vowed that “Black lives matter to Glenn Smith.”
Thursday’s release of the autopsy report has created an uncomfortable truth for the family. According to Waller County prosecutor Warren Diepraam, “At this particular time, I have not seen any evidence that indicates this was a homicide.” He went on, “I can say she tested positive for marijuana.”
And so it continues. As public opinion continues to rage on, others are merely trying to uncover where it all went wrong.
Speaking to CNN, Bland’s friend LaVaughn Mosley explained, “Here is a young black female who was on her way to being successful. I don’t know what happened in that jailhouse, but obviously something went terribly wrong.”