There are still a lot of questions to be answered about the arrest and death of Sandra Bland, who recently died tragically after three days in a Texas jail. A video released by the Texas Department of Public Safety captured a portion of the confrontation between Bland and a police officer after she was pulled over on July 10 for a routine traffic stop. Perhaps most striking is how quickly the situation escalated, leading to the forcible arrest of Bland, and culminating in her untimely demise. It’s also a reminder of how important it is to know your legal rights, and what is and is not permissible when you are pulled over by a police officer.

There’s the law—what is legally permissible for the police officer and the motorist to do. And then there’s the sad reality of how such encounters with the police sometimes play out in practice. Given that reality, there are some things to keep in mind in order to try to prevent the situation from becoming contentious or dangerous…

5. As difficult as it can be, try to remain calm and be as polite as you can. Even if your rights have been violated, you’re not going to argue your way out of the problem. It’s also always a good idea to make sure the police can see your hands, and that you don’t make sudden movements, interfere with what the police are trying to do, or give false statements. In other words, don’t give the police an excuse to mistreat you or pile on additional charges.

Generally, the best advice is to pay close attention to the situation whenever you are interacting with a police officer. If you’ve had a negative experience, or believe that your constitutional rights have been compromised, you should take note of all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, including the police officer’s name and badge number, and pursue a complaint afterwards.

Jason Williamson is a lawyer with the ACLU.

This is probably good advice for white people.  But I’m sure for many people in black, Hispanic, and poor communities, this advice will not help them.

3 thoughts on “Thinking of you, Sandra Bland

  1. yes, i have had only a few encounters with police, but every single one of them but one, was terrifying. when i was 21 i was leaving a bar in downtown area with a friend at last call. i made a right turn without coming to a full stop at the light and got pulled over. officers made my friend walk away, then called back up on me. 5 male officers surrounded me, pinned against a squad car. they took turns doing ‘a full cavity search’ (ie, read: each one raped me) before i was taken to the station. i was ultimately charged with DUI and 3 traffic violations (they need 3 or they can’t make a DUI stick, at least back then anyway).

    one time i was riding without my belt (it had just broken and was stuck too small for me to hook up). i explained when asked. the officer leaned his entire upper body into the car over my waist so his face was in my lap and asked me to make it fit. i couldn’t so of course i got the ticket.

    i was trying to retrieve my purse from a friend’s house, and ended up driving in a blizzard. i accidentally got into the oncoming traffic lane because i couldn’t see the road markings and plows had not yet come in. but there was a cop right there waiting for people like me, and he stopped me, searched me, my purse, my car, (did not give a reason), made me get out of the car (no reason), asked me questions, and did a few field sobriety tests. i passed them, but then he said even tho he couldn’t prove it, he believed i was under the influence (i blew a clean breathalyzer) and even tho he could not arrest me, he was detaining me for 48 hours while they tried to find a charge. i was in a cell for the next 2 days with no meds, no glasses, and no feminine hygiene products. and because i was not actually under arrest, i had no right to a phone call either. my family and kids had no idea where i was, or what had happened. they took me to the psych er but they put me in a wheel chair and handcuffed me to it, and the officer would not leave the room when the doctor was talking to me and trying to find out what was going on. so i could not tell the doctor everything, because this cop wouldn’t leave the room and give me privacy. im pretty sure you’re supposed to be able to talk to the doc privately. then they took me back. then my mom was called (end of 48 hrs) and i refused to go with her (she was my main stressor/abuser) so they arrested me for assault on my mother and then they took me to the hospital again, where the same thing happened, but this time the doc told the cop it was fatigue related stress and anxiety. with that info, they took me back and then released me on my own, so i didn’t have to drive with my mom. i was able to have the assault charges dismissed when i presented what the doc had said about the fatigue and stress and anxiety.

    i have learned that it is best to always smile, talk slowly and calmly, don’t interrupt, and show vulnerability, ie, ‘can you help me understand this’….or…’can you explain’….and definitely, DO NOT ever refuse a command given by an officer (regardless of its legality). try to come off as extremely cooperative and willing to work it out.

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