The Dallas Morning News

Sandra Bland’s mom urges police reforms

Two years after daughter’s death, she pushes passage of bill to change ‘broken system’

- By MADLIN MEKELBURG Austin Bureau Twitter: @madlinbmek

AUSTIN — Two years after Sandra Bland was found dead in a Waller County jail cell after her arrest on a minor traffic violation, her mother came to the Texas Capitol to tell lawmakers to pass a bill named for her daughter that changes the “broken system” she said contribute­d to her daughter’s death.

“I need you all to really think about what you have the ability and the power to do today,” Geneva Reed-Veal told lawmakers on the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. “While today I can only stand up for my daughter, because that is my duty ... allow me to be able to stand with you and say, ‘We made change.’ ”

The Sandra Bland Act, filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman, includes provisions geared at changing standards for police officers and jails to prevent future incidents like Bland’s death. It also would increase required training for officers on de-escalation tactics, racial profiling and how to interact with people who may be mentally impaired.

“I’m not used to doing bills that really have a lot of publicity,” Coleman told the committee. “That was never what this has been about. It is about Sandra Bland . ... If we look at this circumstan­ce, whether people agree or not, every step of the way all the way through to the jail tells us where we’re failing in some ways in our criminal justice system.”

Bland was arrested after a state trooper pulled her over for failing to use her turn signal while changing lanes. Their interactio­n quickly turned violent, and Bland spent three days in jail before her death, which was later ruled a suicide.

Her death sparked nationwide conversati­ons about the strained relationsh­ip between law enforcemen­t officials and communitie­s of color, and she became a symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I feel like people heard what I was saying,” Reed-Veal said after Tuesday’s hearing. “Not so much so that Sandra was a number, but her mom was here. Her family is here. Her death, the loss of her has had a domino effect throughout our community. So we’re still grieving, but I still have to get up and keep moving.

“I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care what anybody else says or does. I will be on the scene when there is anything moving on this bill.”

Coleman presented a revised version of his bill but said he wants to meet with interested parties to craft a stronger proposal.

The bill has received support from groups such as the conservati­ve Texas Public Policy Foundation, but many law enforcemen­t officials oppose it.

Chris Jones, a training coordinato­r for the Combined Law Enforcemen­t Associatio­n of Texas, said the group is against the bill even after working with Coleman on its language.

The Sheriff’s Associatio­n of Texas registered as “neutral” on the bill. It was the only law enforcemen­t group at the hearing that did not outright oppose it.

Reed-Veal told lawmakers that the bill is not “anti-police,” but addresses real concerns that communitie­s of color have about officers and the criminal justice system.

“This was never about being a police hater,” Reed-Veal said after the hearing. “That’s not what this is about. This is about wanting to change lives and being sure that people are walking into these places and, if they’re walking, they should not have to be wheeled out.”

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