This Day In History: July 13

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On July 10, 2015, Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia pulls over a 28-year-old Black woman, Sandra Bland, for failing to signal a lane change. After a heated encounter, he arrests her and takes her to a nearby jail. Three days later, on the morning of July 13, she is found dead in her cell, apparently by suicide. The circumstances surrounding her death lead many to question how Bland could end up losing her life following a minor traffic stop. 

Bland's case drew international outrage over the treatment of Black people by white police officers and became a painful case cited in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Encinia's dashcam and Bland's phone both recorded partial videos of the incident. Bland refused Encinia's orders to put out her cigarette and get out of her car, at which point he brandished his Taser and told her, "I will light you up." Encinia later claimed that Bland kicked him, prompting him to wrestle her to the ground. The alleged fight was not captured on video—save for Bland describing being knocked to the ground and telling Encinia she has epilepsy. Several days later, an officer sent to deliver Bland her breakfast found her dead, and an autopsy concluded she had hung herself with a plastic bag.

Bland’s family and friends immediately questioned not only her treatment but also the official report of her suicide. Bland was reportedly in good spirits around the time of her arrest, excited by the prospect of a new job she was due to start in a few days. Her death—almost exactly a year after the killing of Eric Garner by the New York Police Department—fit into a pattern of police violence and systemic racism in law enforcement that became increasingly visible to the American public over the course of the 2010s.

The jail where Bland died was found to have been ignoring protocols regarding prisoner observation, and in 2017, Texas passed the Sandra Bland Act, which attempts to educate police officers about mental illness and de-escalation and mandates that jails divert people with mental health or substance abuse issues into treatment. 

Bland’s name became known across the country shortly after her death and was chanted at racial justice protests for years.