The Sandra Bland Act Is Being Debated In Texas

by Joseph D. Lyons
Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Many have already said her name, and now there's a call for the Texas legislature to join in. Sandra Bland died in a Texas jail cell nearly two years ago, and Democratic lawmakers in the state have introduced a bill that would try to prevent such a thing from happening again. Bland was stopped for failing to signal for a lane change, then arrested for resisting arrest, and finally found asphyxiated in her jail cell. Her death was ultimately ruled a suicide. So what is the Sandra Bland Act? It's a way to prevent more deaths like hers.

When it was introduced in session in March, State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat, explained its purpose. "The Sandra Bland Act aims to improve and correct Texas' criminal justice system to make it better for all people and prevent future tragedies like Sandra Bland's," he said.

The law, 55 pages long, has several provisions. It would specifically target racial profiling by requiring that the race of every driver stopped be recorded while also providing training for deescalation and mental health awareness. Among the steps it would take is requiring sheriffs to notify a magistrate if an inmate is thought to potentially have a mental illness, and rules would have to be developed to offer access to mental health professionals 24 hours a day.

The bill is currently in committee, with the hopes that it will be sent on to the full Texas legislature soon. Testimony from some 35 people helped convince lawmakers of the need for the bill, but there was still some pushback from law enforcement. The Texas Municipal Police Association executive director Kevin Lawrence said that he thinks the preamble to the bill is anti-police. "The whole tone of that preamble is somehow law enforcement is run amok, and we take exception to that," he told The Houston Chronicle.

Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother, however, gave a very powerful testimony in the session that may have won over any holdouts. She explicitly acknowledged the police's argument. "I don’t hate police. I hate the fact that we do not understand that this has been going on for too long by those who have been charged to serve and protect us," she told the lawmakers.

“I need this bill to move forward so that it will prove to people who say that Texas is the most awful state to live in. And to me that’s true, because Texas is a place of pain for me,” Reed-Veal continued. “So I need you to think about what you have the power and ability to do today.”

The law would be the first step in not just helping to save Texas' reputation, but also in preventing such senseless deaths as that of Bland.