This post originally appeared on the Uniform Stories website and is reprinted here with their permission.
Waller County, Texas. July 10, 2015
Sandra Bland was stopped by a Texas State Trooper for a traffic violation. She was ultimately arrested and booked for assaulting the trooper. Three days later, she was discovered hanging in her jail cell. An autopsy confirmed the death of suicide.
This post is not about Bland’s death, nor is it for you conspiracy theorists out there. It’s not for you vehement supporters or detractors of law enforcement (I have no expectation of influencing either of you). It is directed at those of you who share Bland’s confusion about how “all of this happened because I failed to signal a lane change.”
If you’ve paid any attention to my ranting over the last seven years over at the blog (not to mention the last year or so at UniformStories), you’ll recall there is one test that all officer’s adhere to: The Attitude Test.
When Bland was re-contacted with a citation, the Trooper asked her to extinguish her cigarette. She took an exception to his request and that’s where things started going downhill. What we need to ask ourselves is this: Can a trooper make that request or order and does a driver have to comply?
Let me answer that question by asking another: Can a cigarette be used as a weapon?
If you answered no, I would say I agree…if you define ‘weapon’ as something that could kill you. Of course, a cigarette can’t kill you (other than slowly over decades because you have a disgusting and deadly habit), but it can certainly injure you via a burn. Is it within reason to say a lit, flicked cigarette could be used as a distraction whilst the flicker grabs a deadly weapon? I’d certainly say so.
So, yes, I believe an officer can order someone to extinguish a cigarette during a contact. Bland seemingly disagreed because she can be heard on audio saying, “Why do I have to put out a cigarette when I’m in my own (sic) car?” Often, people want to debate what they believe to be their rights on the side of the road and this is what I want to scream at them every single time:
That is what court is for!!
When the guy/girl with the badge and gun tells you to do something, it is safer for you to assume we know what we’re talking about and it would behoove you to comply.
Bland decided to go a different route. Now listen, it’s never pretty to see someone resisting arrest. We don’t get to say, “Pretty please with a cherry on top.” If someone says no, we make them. It’s as easy as that.