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Texas Gov. Signs ‘Sandra Bland Act’ That Doesn’t Address Issues That Ultimately Led to Her Death

A bill named in honor of Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in a Waller County Jail cell in July 2015, was signed by Texas’ governor largely without measures addressing racial profiling. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Anderson)

Two years after the death of Sandra Bland, a Black women arrested in Texas during a routine traffic stop who died days later in a county jail, the governor of that state signed into law legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to pay greater attention to mental health conditions.

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbot signed the “Sandra Bland Act” into law on Thursday, June 15.

The law, which takes effect Sept. 1, mandates that Texas county jails divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues to treatment and requires independent law enforcement agencies to investigate jail-related deaths, according to the Texas Tribune.

But it is what the bill does not contain — namely, strong language addressing racial profiling — that is perhaps most noteworthy.

The 28-year-old Illinois native was found hanged in her cell at the Waller County Jail just days after being pulled over for failing to use her turn signal in July 2015. She was arrested after getting into a heated argument with Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia, who was later fired.

Bland’s family later reached a $1.9 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Bland’s mysterious death in jail three days after the traffic stop was ruled a suicide. Her family, including her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, questioned that conclusion, prompting them, with backing from activists, to push the state legislature to pass a bill focusing on reforms dealing with law enforcement operations.

A bill introduced by state Rep. Garnet Coleman, Democrat of Houston, and named in honor of Bland, originally addressed racial profiling during traffic stops, consent searches, counseling for police officers who profiled drivers and jail reforms, according to the Texas Tribune.

But the optimism of Bland’s family waned after some lawmakers, pushed by law enforcement groups, chipped away at the criminal justice reform legislation. A bill by state Sen. John Whitmire, also a Democrat from Houston, that was ultimately signed the governor primarily tackled mental health issues.

Still, said Coleman in a statement, the  Sandra  Bland  Act  has  many  important  measures  that will make the public safer.

“To name just a few, 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. “The Sandra Bland Act will also ensure that cell checks are properly done by providing funding for automated electronic sensors.”

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