At a Tue. August 11 meeting held at the Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd., a group of about 60 people — many of them West Side clergy — joined a growing chorus calling for a federal investigation into the death of 28-year-old Sandra Bland. Bland died mysteriously in a Texas jail cell on July 13. According to autopsy results, Bland’s death was caused by suicide, but her family disputes those findings.
On July 10, Bland was pulled over by state trooper Brian Encinia, 30, on a Texas highway for failing to signal. The trooper’s dashboard video of the encounter shows Encinia threatening Bland with his stun gun and forcing her out of her vehicle after she wouldn’t put out her cigarette when he first asked. By the end of the video, Encinia has Bland subdued, and hollering out in pain, on the ground.
According to investigators looking into the incident, Encinia violated the department’s traffic stop and courtesy policies. Bland had recently been hired at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, and was staying in Texas with her uncle.
At Bland’s July 25 funeral in Lisle, a suburb in DuPage County, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-11th), told mourners that they each had drafted a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling for a full and unbiased federal investigation into the matter.
Durbin said, as he was traveling on the expressway from Chicago to the DuPage County church for the service, “there were many people changing lanes in traffic and there were many not using their signal and their lives continue.”
Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, also attended the service. He told Austin Weekly News at the time that Bland should never have been in a jail cell to begin with.
“This young lady’s death has put the spotlight on systemic racism across the board in America. Anybody who saw that dashboard video can see we have another instance of police aggression that was instigated by racial profiling. Sandra Bland died in a cell she never should’ve been in in the first place,” Acree said.
Standing in solidarity with other West Side ministers and with Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal — herself a minister at a church in Humboldt Park — Acree doubled down on those comments.
“Support for Sandra Bland among Chicago’s clergy is broad and strong. Many local faith and community leaders are deeply troubled by her inexplicable death. The infamous dash cam video conveys to the world that she was a victim of racially charged police aggression. This young woman died in a cell that she never should have been in,” Acree said.
Many of the ministers at the August 11 meeting, including Acree, are members of the Leaders Network, a social justice organization comprising community leaders and clergy throughout the city.
The organization’s president, Rev. Cy Fields, said the tragedy of Bland’s death “calls for the pursuit of truth and nationwide police reform. Remaining silent will give power to double standard justice and the divide between police and community will grow.”
Rev. Marshall Hatch, a member of the Leaders Network and pastor of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park, said Bland’s death is a reflection of a much deeper problem.
“Sandra Bland’s tragic encounter with law enforcement reflects a national and local problem. Recent local ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] statistics confirm what many of us already knew: here in Chicago, and around the nation, African Americans bear the brunt of police abuse,” he said.
The pastors pledged to write a joint letter to Attorney General Lynch reinforcing demands made by scores of others across the country for a federal investigation. They also urged people to sign a petition demanding a federal investigation. The petition can be found on their website, leadersnetworkchicago.org.