The deaths of African Americans at the hands of police officers have dominated headlines nationally over the last 18 months.
Texas has not been immune to cases like this. In the Dallas area, the death of a woman in a Waller County jail cell has sparked a protest in the city and elsewhere in the country.
Sandra Bland was arrested by a Texas Department of Public Safety officer during a traffic stop and charged with assault on a public servant. The officials say she hanged herself. Her family isn’t buying it.
The Dallas Morning News reported the comments of Olinka Green who was at a protest Saturday evening in downtown Dallas over the death of Bland.
Green, 46, was arrested earlier this year on the same charge – assault on a public servant. Green was cleared of her charges by a Dallas County grand jury. Bland’s case never made it before a grand jury. She died first in custody.
It’s not just family members and friends who are demanding answers over the death of Bland who regularly spoke out on racism and police brutality before she died. Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, has questioned the death and Bland’s treatment during the arrest. DPS officials in the case have said the arresting officer violated “procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy” and are continuing to look into the matter, reported the Dallas Morning News.
Green said she had never organized a protest on her own before, but thought it was important to show that Bland’s life mattered. More than 30 people showed up to the protest in Belo Garden Park and marched around 1200 Main.
“I want others to know Texas should not be a place like this,” Green said.
The death follows a wave of new scrutiny on police after other high-profile deaths of African-Americans in New York, Baltimore, Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri. The deaths were at the hands of law enforcement officers and prompted a nationwide dialogue about the use of force and policing.
To complicate matters Waller County has a disturbing racial history, according to the Houston Chronicle. With a largely rural population, the county still ranked among the state’s highest in a study from the Equal Justice Initiative that tallied lynching’s from 1877 to 1950, with 15 documented cases. The current sheriff was suspended as Hempstead police chief in 2007 for racist behavior, the report stated.
An online petition calling for a Department of Justice investigation had gathered more than 15,000 signatures by the end of last week.
The death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore shocked a community and is seen as a catalyst to the recent riots in the city. However, deaths in police custody may be more common than we think. A recent report in Mother Jones stated least 4,813 people died while in custody of local and state law enforcement between 2003 and 2009, according to the latest available statistics, published in 2011. More than 60 percent of those deaths were classified as homicides.
These worrying statistics highlight how far the criminal justice system has to go before it wins back the faith of the public.