What We're Still Learning from Sandra Bland
Eight years ago this month, Sandra Bland was pulled over by state police for failing to signal a lane change. After a few exchanges between Bland and state trooper Brian T. Encinia, which Bland herself recorded on her phone, the encounter escalated, and Encinia ultimately arrested Bland. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her Texas jail cell. What happened? How do we go from a simple traffic stop for failing to signal a lane change to the loss of someone's life? The consequences of “simple” police stops are anything but simple. We know that what many consider “routine, everyday” traffic stops can be harmful and easily escalate into life-threatening situations, especially for Black people. For Bland, a traumatic police encounter wound up with her in jail and unsure of whether and how she could raise the $500 deposit she needed to post her $5,000 bail and get out of jail, and it likely impacted her mental health and possibly exacerbated her previous mental health issues. But even for those who survive a traffic stop, these encounters often leave a lasting impact. The psychological distress and harm that police encounters can cause has been demonstrated by research, but very little of that research has focused specifically on the experiences and interactions that Black women have with police.
Given that Black women are 1.4 times more likely to be killed by police than are white women, we are incarcerated at 1.6 times the rate of white women, and Black girls are 3 times more likely to be arrested or referred to law enforcement than white girls, it’s critical that we closely examine the experiences of Black women, trans, and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people to understand their interactions with police and law enforcement so that we can advocate for new models of public safety that center their needs and experiences.
In 2021, NBWJI launched Policing the Intersections, an online survey study to understand the physical and mental health impacts of these “routine, everyday” police encounters on Black women, trans, and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people. We surveyed nearly 150 people and conducted interviews with a smaller subset to hear and learn about their encounters with police and how those encountered impacted them.
Our early study findings show that police encounters are all too common and often harmful for Black women, trans and gender nonconforming people.
The vast majority of Black women, trans women, and gender-expansive people in the study have had a police encounter in their lives.
At least 50% of the Black women, trans women, and gender-expansive people who had a direct encounter with police reported experiencing some form of physical harm (use of force), sexual harm (harassment, inappropriate body searches, sexual assault), and/or psychological harm (threats, intimidation, using slurs) during the encounter.
At least 25% of the Black women, trans women, and gender-expansive people who had a direct encounter with police reported an adverse consequence as a direct result of the encounter. These include arrest, involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or child protective services, and loss of job, housing, or benefits.
Later this year, we will release the full report to elevate and amplify the voices and experiences of Black women, trans, and gender nonconforming people who have been harmed by police, as they are often forgotten or neglected in conversations about policing. At NBWJI, we believe research is a powerful tool for social change, and we do this work to create a world in which Sandra Bland, and the countless other Black women who have been killed by police, would be with us today.