City of Austin Honors Sandra Bland with 'Sandra Bland Day'

The City of Austin Texas has proclaimed that Saturday, July 13 is officially Sandra Bland Day.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler made the proclamation official to observe Bland’s wrongful death four years ago while she was in police custody in Waller County, Texas, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

“Sandra Bland was an activist for racial justice, whose wrongful death was a call to action across the United States to change the way the criminal justice system produces unequal outcomes,” the proclamation read.

Members of the Community Advocacy & Healing Project and Undoing White Supremacy Austin (UWSA) are holding an event on the day called the Sandra Bland Day of Advocacy and Healing at Huston-Tillotson University. The event will promote healing and take a look into criminal justice reform.

“As we celebrate the life and legacy of Sandra Bland we will participate in a movement (march), dialogue, and learn about criminal justice policy passed through the 86th Texas Legislative Session,” the description of the event read on Facebook.

Bland was returning back to Texas to take a job at Prairie View A&M University when she was stopped by Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper Brian Encinia in July 2015 after she reportedly failed to signal while changing lanes.

The situation escalated and Encinia arrested Bland and booked her into Waller County Jail.

Bland, 28, stayed in jail for three days and was found dead in her jail cell, according to The New York Times. Bland’s death was ruled as a suicide, KEYE reported.

The Bland family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Waller County and Texas DPS for the 28-year-old’s death and agreed to a $1.9 million settlement in their lawsuit.

Bland’s death prompted public outrage and an online petition to investigate the 28-year-old’s death.

Encinia was fired from his job and charged with perjury following Bland’s death. He had plead not guilty and prosecutors filed for the charges to be dropped. The charge was dropped by a judge in June 2017.

A few days before the charges were dropped against Encinia, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the Sandra Bland Act, which ordered changes to corrections and police policy when dealing with people who are abusing substances or have mental health concerns, the Texas Tribune reported. The bill, which went into effect in September 2017, would also use “de-escalation tactics in all interactions with the public.”

"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," he said at the time.

In May, new cellphone footage from the traffic stop with Bland and Encinia surfaced, which prompted calls to reopen the case. The 39-second cellphone video, which was obtained by WFAA, was taken by Bland and shows Encinia angrily pointing his Taser at Bland, shouting “I will light you up!”

Shante Needham, Bland’s sister, told WFAA that the family was unaware of the cellphone video and believe it was intentionally withheld from them. The family had also called for the case in her sister’s death to be reopened.

“Open up the case, period,” Needham previously told WFAA after seeing the video. “We also know they have an extremely, extremely good cover-up system.”

In a statement to The New York Times following the release of the new video, the police department noted that it did not withhold the cellphone footage, and claimed that it was referenced several times in its investigative report.

Democratic presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro, both from Texas, have also called for the investigation into Bland’s death to be reopened after the new cellphone footage was released. “Immediately re-open the investigation into Sandra Bland's arrest and death. There must be full accountability and justice,” O’Rourke tweeted.

Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary, wrote on Twitter that the cellphone footage is proof that Encinia lied and there was no reason for her to be arrested.

‘The recently released video Sandra Bland took of her own arrest provides the latest example of a police justification for the death of an unarmed black person being revealed as a flat out lie,” Castro tweeted.

“This video is compelling proof that Trooper Encinia lied, that Sandra Bland posed no threat, and that there was no basis for her arrest. This case should be reopened and justice should finally be served,” Castro continued.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.