Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in her cell at a Texas county jail last summer, would not have died had she been white, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders said after a grand jury declined to indict anyone in connection with her death.
“Sandra Bland should not have died while in police custody,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in a statement responding to the grand jury decision. “There’s no doubt in my mind that she, like too many African-Americans who die in police custody, would be alive today if she were a white woman.”
“My thoughts are with her family and her loved ones tonight. We need to reform a very broken criminal justice system.”
Related: Sandra Bland: suspicion and mistrust flourish amid official inconsistencies
Bland, 28, was arrested during a routine traffic stop that escalated into a confrontation. Police dashboard footage released amid a roiling national debate over the treatment of black people by law enforcement, showed Bland arguing with state trooper Brian Encinia. She refused to get out of her car, until Encinia pulled out a stun gun and shouted: “Get out of the car. I will light you up.”
Darrell Jordan, one of the five special prosecutors assigned to the case, told the Associated Press that the Waller County grand jury had not yet reached its decision on whether the trooper who arrested Bland should face charges in connection with the initial incident. The grand jury will return in January to consider that.
Bland’s death sparked national outrage and widespread skepticism about the official account that she killed herself in her cell. Encinia was placed on desk duty after the DPS said he violated traffic stop procedures and the department’s courtesy policy.
A medical examiner ruled Bland’s death suicide but her family has publicly disputed those findings.
Sanders, the underdog in the Democratic primary, has forcefully condemned the incident on several occasions, noting the dual challenges in confronting institutional racism and reforming law enforcement.
“People should not die for a minor traffic infraction,” Sanders said in a Facebook post after the dashcam video was released in July . This type of police abuse has become an all-too-common occurrence for people of color and it must stop.”
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has called her death “heartbreaking” and said it is an example of how the country must face “hard truths about race”.
After the decision was announced, Bland’s family expressed concern with the judicial process.
“The grand jury’s refusal to indict anyone in connection with her death is not a surprise to us as a secret process where secret evidence is presented to secret grand jurors is not one we can trust or have confidence in,” Sharon Cooper, Bland’s sister, wrote in a Facebook post on Monday after the decision. “… Please know that while this decision is disheartening, we will continue to press forward with our existing civil lawsuit.”
The family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against those involved in Bland’s arrest, including Encinia, the sheriff’s office and her jailers. The case is scheduled for a jury trial in January 2017.
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