Election 2016

Bernie Sanders Becomes the First Candidate to Speak Out on Sandra Bland: 'We Need Real Police Reform'

Days after tense confrontation with #BlackLivesMatter activists, Sanders decries 'all-too-common' problem.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 9, 2015:- U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent -Vermont) speaks at a luncheon at the National Press Club
Photo Credit: Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock.com

Bernie Sanders released a forceful statement blasting the conduct of Sandra Bland’s arresting officer as “police abuse” and calling for “real police reform.” So far, Sanders is the only presidential candidate to speak publicly about the death of Bland while in police custody.

The arrest and subsequent death of the 28-year-old African American woman in a small Texas town set-off a national outcry last week after local officials ruled her death in a jell cell a suicide. Witness cell phone footage later released revealed Bland yelling during the arrest that the officer had slammed her head on the ground. Authorities said she hung herself with a plastic bag in a jail cell three days later on July 13. Following Sanders’ tense confrontation with #BlackLivesMatters activists at the progressive Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix on Saturday, the independent Vermont senator added a passage to his stump speech in Houston on Sunday referencing Bland’s death, a reference the Texas Tribune said drew the longest and loudest applause from the crowd. “It is unacceptable that police officers beat up people or kill people,” Sanders told the audience in Houston. “If they do that, they have got to be held accountable.”

After dashcam video of Bland’s arrest was released last night showing the officer, who had pulled Bland over for what he described as failing to signal a turn, open Bland’s driver side door and threaten to “light her up” with his taser if she didn’t stop smoking a cigarette and exit the vehicle, Sanders was quick to release a statement Tuesday condemning the arrest:

This video of the arrest of Sandra Bland shows totally outrageous police behavior. No one should be yanked from her car, thrown to the ground, assaulted and arrested for a minor traffic stop. The result is that three days later she is dead in her jail cell. This video highlights once again why we need real police reform. People should not die for a minor traffic infraction. This type of police abuse has become an all-too-common occurrence for people of color and it must stop.

Two Texas state lawmakers have already called Bland’s arrest unlawful, but the two Texans running for president, Sen. Ted Cruz and former Governor Rick Perry have not yet commented on Bland at all. Sanders is the only presidential candidate to mention Bland on the campaign trail, so far. Activists have utilized the #SayHerName hashtag on social media to garner attention to the Bland case.

 

Sophia Tesfaye is the Deputy Politics Editor at Salon.

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