The following essay encompasses a publicized crime. The paper seeks to provide an in-depth investigation of the victimization in the crime. The crime preferred for this analysis is the case of Sandra Bland.
On July 10, 2015, a 28-year-old African-American woman was pulled over by an overzealous state trooper in Prairie View, Texas. She had allegedly failed to use her signal when she took a turn. The minor traffic offence escalated into a violent confrontation that led to Bland being arrested and charged with assaulting an officer. A few days later, she was found hanging in her cell. Apparently, the young woman who had just secured a new job at her alma mater took her life. An ideally uneventful traffic offence morphed into a convenient suicide.
State Trooper Brian Encinia pulled Bland over for the traffic offence. A video from the officer’s dashcam shows Encinia writing up a ticket and returning to Bland’s car. The trooper then asked Bland to put out her cigarette. It is then that Bland receives the accusation of being ‘argumentative and uncooperative.’ The transcripts retrieved from the footage and scrutiny of the video have revealed that the trooper was clearly completing the traffic stop. Then, he escalated the situation consequent to Bland’s refusal to put out her cigarette. From a legal perspective, Encinia’s extension of the stop constituted an illegal detention and a subsequent illicit arrest. In essence, the trooper contravened a Supreme Court ruling and therefore, broke the law. On April 2015, in the case of Rodriguez v. United States, the Supreme Court made a definitive decision. It stipulated that an officer had no right to extend a traffic stop, except when there was reasonable belief an offence had been or was going to be committed. There had to be a succinct and demonstrable concern to warrant the delay. A lit cigarette does not meet this threshold. It bears no relevant jurisprudence precedence in being branded as a ‘safety concern’ to the trooper. Ergo, Encinia had no legal ground to order Bland to put out her cigarette.
Furthermore, the officer neglected to mention the cigarette in the initial meeting, prior to writing up the ticket for the traffic offence and asking for Bland’s license and registration. Therefore, the cigarette was an afterthought and a non-issue. Following this episode and the ensuing media uproar, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Texas Department of Public Safety are investigating Bland’s death. Encinia has since gone on to administrative duty for violating standard arrest protocol. In January 2015, Bland began posting videos on police brutality against blacks. Her vocal stance attracted her identity as a civil rights activist in Chicago. She was also a member of a ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. Whether the offender (the Caucasian trooper) has recognized her from the onset, is a matter that is open for debate.
It is noteworthy to state the factors of social class, gender, ethnicity, and race that may have played an unwitting role in making Sandra Bland (the victim) vulnerable. During the ill-fated traffic stop, Trooper Encinia (the offender) asked Bland why she seemed irritated. She answered in a steady and confident tone. However, for some reason, Encinia did not appreciate her tone. Bland became understandably peeved. In all honesty, a traffic stop is a stressful event, and Encinia should have understood her vexation. Instead, he instead asked her to put her cigarette out and when she did not do that, he viewed it as an insult to his authority. He proceeded to threaten her with his Taser, forced her to leave her car, and treated her inhumanely despite her protests. She stated her rights, but it did not matter to the officer. Bland was already in a losing position the moment she declined being subservient. With this in mind, one must question the officer’s behavior. It is far from standard or routine. Therefore, the stated factors could be used as a lens to understand his conduct.
The criminal justice system is a stereotypically laced and label-conferring institution that is fickle to the changing definitions of crime. The constructs of ‘Crime’ and ‘Criminals’ are a creation of moral conforms, social movements, political ideologies, and media dissemination. In essence, the tag ‘criminal’ or what becomes a ‘crime’ is a social, political and economically manufactured construct (Cohen, Barak, Flavin, & Leighton, 2002). These paradigms are then strewn and socialized through the media, via discussions at home, school, government, and seemingly confirmed by the court. Consequently, when several African-Americans (who) are shown to be gun-totters (what) and are charged by the law court, all blacks unknowingly wear the ‘criminal’ label. They are guilty until proven innocent. In the administration of criminal justice and the process of profiling, which is ideally designed to get ahead of crime and reduce search criteria, officers like Encinia rely heavily on data and statistics. The data stems from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and the U.S. Department of Justice. Inevitably, generalizations occur that result in the over or under representation of a particular socio-economic group (Cohen et al., 2002). For instance, people from poor backgrounds or impoverished communities generally experience the full extent of these generalizations.
Sandra Bland was a black woman, driving in a sparsely populated area with a brutal history of racism. She stood out like a sore thumb. With Bland being African-American, the officer was already vigilant. As a woman, Bland was expected to be submissive to the man (covert authority) and his badge (overt power). The social class stereotype became completed by her cigarette. Combined with all the other factors, it fashioned the notion that she was from a low social class. She was immediately vulnerable to the officer.
The crime committed against the victim is the inhumane treatment she received and the illegal arrest. As outlined earlier, Encinia broke the law and contravened arresting protocols. The factors of social class, gender, race, and ethnicity were instrumental in making the offender view the victim as a lesser being (Cohen et al., 2002). He did not care for or respect her rudimentary human rights. The presence of a dashcam and a bystander recording did not deter his efforts. Either he rationalized his actions as necessary or remained conditioned by the fact other officers had not attracted any punitive measures for the same act. The victim lay squarely in the crosshairs of the debilitating perceptions that yoke the criminal justice system.
According to time and place studies, some men and women, select socio-economic classes, and choices of racial or ethnic groups are more likely or less likely to be sanctioned by the justice system. The emphasis of inquiry shifts from non-conforming behavior to social standing. Institutions of social control (the criminal justice system) reproduce experiences that are in line with the status quo (Hawkins, 1995). Crime and behavioral control are reproduction of the dominant economic, political, and social interests of the macro society. The propagation of criminal justice is a construct of the influential, elite or ruling class to sustain privilege and inequality (status quo). Therefore, based on the articulated factors of social class, race, and gender, the victim’s (Sandra Bland) experience would parallel the requirements of the status quo (Hawkins, 1995). In essence, she would be deprived of any privileges and get the inequality treatment evidenced by the trooper.
There is an absence of an apparent relationship between the offender and the victim. The relationship is purely circumstantial and insinuated. The offender views the victim through the bigoted lens of crime, effectively treating her as a criminal. Alternately, the victim is incensed with the offender’s chauvinistic, tyrannical, and insensitive behavior. Henceforth, their relationship bears a skirmish element and mutual disregard. The weapon used in the crime is a blatant abuse of power and brute force. The offender physically harmed the victim with a blow to the head. He also cuffed the victim so tightly she could barely feel her fingers.
While the crime may have pushed Bland to the suicide, it is crucial to state the psychological, social, and emotional effects that the victimization may have had on her family. The crime victimization can negate an individual’s ability to execute a variety of roles (Hanson, Sawyer, Begle, & Hubelet, 2010). For instance, these roles are parenting, occupational and social functioning as well as the ability to form and sustain intimate relationships. Moreover, the offender was part of the criminal justice system. A system whose existence remains founded on the premise of protection. The psychological impact of this consequence cannot be understated. It breeds hostility and mistrust in the victim’s family towards any government institution (Hanson et al., 2010). It may morph into social avoidance, where the victim’s family develops difficulty in forming relationships with anyone outside the family. If justice remains unserved to the offender, this impact may be long-term.
Researchers also postulate a relationship between crime and the victim’s self-report on life satisfaction and personal well-being, especially if the misconduct had a hostility and prejudice quotient. These two variables tend to exacerbate the harmful effect of victimization. Ergo, critical vocational and social roles become nonchalantly addressed or completely ignored. However, with proper counseling and coping strategies, the problem is short-term and it can be alleviated.
The emotional distress, as outlined, can cause problems in forming relationships. Moreover, it can negatively influence parenting. In this case, Sandra Bland’s parents could be crippled with the emotional duress of losing their daughter, which could affect their parenting skills. The parenting issue is a short-term problem that can be solved by proper grieving, counseling, coping, and closure (Hanson et al., 2010). The victim’s family currently pursues a wrongful death lawsuit against the trooper, hence bringing to the fore an example of the financial (social) impact of victimization that some families stomach. The effect can be long-term or short-term depending on the fiscal ability of the family. Finally, there is the dreaded Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is imperative to state that the victim or their family do not necessarily have to develop PTSD as the result of victimization. With timely crisis intervention and proper counseling, the probability of occurrence becomes reduced. However, depending on the severity of the victimization, the effects of PTSD can be long-term or short-term.
A media outlet wrote the ambiguous headline, “Woman Found in Jail Cell Had Prior Run-Ins with the Law”. Her only priors were unpaid traffic tickets. Another media house was sure to state an aspect that was completely irrelevant to the case. Apparently, Sandra Bland had marijuana in her system. Sandra Bland faced a multitude of smear campaigns, with the purpose of sustaining the impression that she was not a victim. For instance, her picture in an orange jumpsuit, which could be associated with hardened criminals, was shown by the media. Further, the media attempted to propagate the perception that she had an attitude and acted aggressively.
This narrative finds itself associated with any black woman with an opinion or a steadfast knowledge of her rights. The mainstream media, as articulated earlier, actively played its role disseminating information that distorted the truth and cast blame on the victim. However, news concerning her suicide and the 52-minute footage from her arrest turned the tide. It sparked a national controversy as African-American activists and an array of political figures began questioning her mysterious suicide and the absurd arrest. The sense that Bland is a victim of police mistreatment has become increasingly evident.
Since the victim is dead, she is not available for any services. However, if she were available, she would had multiple options to pursue. She could have decided to sue the trooper or visit the Office for Victims of Crime. The office endeavors to offer helplines, compensation programs, and local programs designed to help the victims of crime (Office for Victims of Crime, n.d.).
The secondary victims of this crime are the family of Sandra Bland. They may not have sustained the same physical injuries or incarcerated, but the emotional and psychological effects are just as grave. Consequently, as outlined earlier, the grievous social, emotional, and psychological impact experienced will require counseling and crisis prevention techniques (Davis, Lurigio, & Herman, 2012). Further, they are set to incur financial effects with the lawsuit they pursue and the funeral service they have to arrange for their deceased daughter.
While no legal policies have directly resulted from Sandra Bland’s case, there are legal implications. Firstly, a citizen has the right to ask why they were pulled over. If the police can adequately justify his reason and state the violation, then as a citizen, one is legally obligated to provide their identity card and insurance information. Secondly, there is no legal precedent to put out a cigarette. Third, unless it is related to the violation or a police officer sees something in the car that rises to the level of crime, a citizen does not have to exit his vehicle. Finally, an officer can only use his handcuffs in the event of a justifiable probable cause.
The implication these laws have on social change remains reliant to the courage one has to exercise them. Officers can be intimidating and in the Bland’s case downright unprofessional. In addition, it depends on society’s desire to uphold and abide by these statutes.
The immediate implication is the lawsuit lodged against Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia. Apart from that, Sandra Bland’s death has touched a nerve in the nation’s fabric. As a result, the social media platform has been awash with protests against the lie that is the criminal justice system. The fact that the authorities have released the video evidence is a testament of the social change and the implications Bland’s case has reproduced. The norm of policing those corrupted by racism remains highlighted. Further, political figures (members of the elite) have started voicing their concerns over the seemingly arbitrary killings of citizens. The one-sided nature of the mainstream media has become exposed. The media has succumbed to the guilty verdict of skewed coverage. Further, there has been a rallying call for honesty and clarity from the media and police departments. Increased scrutiny and mounting pressure may bring an end to the impunity that has been a characteristic of these institutions. There is a need for convictions and punitive measures so severe that an overzealous or power-drunk officer will pause before shooting an unarmed African-American. Finally, Bland’s case may be the catalyst that sparks the chain of events towards requisite accountability.