Another viral video involving a black citizen and a white cop. And another smattering of anti-police rhetoric from the evangelical intelligentsia. It’s becoming a common theme.
This time it’s involving a black woman named Sandra Bland who was stopped by a white Texas State Trooper for failing to signal a lane change. Video here… [WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE]
Now, before I get into the particulars of this case, I need to address something. As usual, there’s the Romans 13 refresher…
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”
Now, as Christians, is there ever a time that it’s OK to disobey an order from a cop? Yes, there are 2 such occasions and here they are.
#1 – When an officer tells you to do something that violates God’s commands.
Example: An officer tells you to worship Buddha or go to jail. A biblical example of something like this is Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were told by the authorities (Nebuchadnezzer in this case) to stop worshiping God. They obeyed God rather than man. But notice something, they didn’t attack Nebuchadnezzer. They didn’t resist arrest. They didn’t attempt to flee. They simply obeyed God and accepted the consequences, which in this case was to be death in a fiery furnace. The Bible is full of examples like this.
Matthew 26:50 says, “Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant[g] of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
Simon Peter was trying to prevent Jesus’ arrest (talk about an unlawful arrest!) and Jesus rebuked him for assaulting the high priest. The apostles were arrested and martyred yet you’ll never find a single verse where Jesus or the apostles encourage resisting arrest, assaulting a Roman guard, trying to stage an insurrection, etc.
#2 – When an order from the officer is unlawful.
If an officer tells you to shoot yourself in the head or be arrested, yeah, that would be a good time to disobey the order. But again, that never grants you the right to resist arrest, attack the officer, try to kill the officer or try to run from the officer. Even if you’re being arrested for something bogus, we as Christians have a duty to respond a certain way. There is still recourse for you. It’s probably in your best interest to still do as the officer asks, and if you were illegally arrested, by all means do whatever you legally can to get justice. That might mean going to the news, that might mean suing the officer for damages, getting him fired, whatever. But fleeing, resisting or assaulting is NEVER the appropriate action for a Christian (or anyone else) to take.
Expounding on point #2, if you’re going to disobey an order from an officer because you think the order is unlawful, you’d better be 110% sure that you know what you’re talking about. I would say 99% of the public doesn’t. They think they do because they watch police dramas on TV, or they have a degree in criminal justice, or they know someone who knows a cop/lawyer/judge who told them they were right. Let me just tell you as plainly as I can: there’s an high astronomical chance that the officer knows the law better than you. So if you’re going to play that card you’d better really know what you’re getting into. If you haven’t spent at least 6 months studying the law (and sometimes years in addition to that practicing it and enforcing it) like police officers do, then chances are you don’t know the law quite as well as you think you do.
Now, having laid that groundwork, let’s get to the Sandra Bland arrest.
She was stopped for failing to signal a lane change. The officer goes back up to her car with a written warning. If she had simply signed it, she would have been on her way in a matter of minutes, and very few of us would even know who Sandra Bland was. Instead, she copped an attitude. She copped an attitude before even knowing what was going to happen. She had no idea that the officer initially had no intention of arresting her or even giving her a ticket. Instead, she’s mad that she’s even being stopped, and it must have been written all over her face as the officer asks, “Are you OK?” Then she vents about how irritated she is about getting a ticket (even though she wasn’t getting one.) Now I can’t read the officer’s mind, but my guess is that after all the attitude he received, he changed his mind about letting her off with a warning.
He asks her, in an EXTREMELY nice way, to put out her cigarette. She refuses and gives more attitude. He then commands her to step out of the car.
This is where most of the confusion comes in. Why was he asking her to put out her cigarette? Is she legally obligated to? Is she legally obligated to step out of the car? The answer is yes, she most definitely IS obligated to step out of the car if the officer asks her to.
Pennsylvania vs Mimms led to a Supreme Court ruling that an officer CAN lawfully order someone to step out of the car during a traffic stop. (Read up on it here if you desire)
Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977), is a United States Supreme Court criminal law decision holding that a police officer ordering a person out of a car following a traffic stop and conducting a pat-down to check for weapons did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
She refused the lawful order to exit the vehicle. Now, back to the cigarette. A cigarette can be used as a weapon to stick into the officer’s eye, especially if the violator then plans to flee or assault the officer further. He was probably thinking proactively when he asked her to put it out, but regardless, that plays no bearing on whether or not she had the right to remain in the car.
And aside from Pennsylvania v. Mimms, he could have arrested her solely for the failure to signal intent to change lanes. Yes, you can be arrested even for a traffic violation. The only exceptions are speeding and open container in the state of Texas. Most of the time an officer will give the violator an opportunity to sign a promise to appear in court (a citation/ticket) instead of arresting them and taking them directly to the magistrate right then and there, but in the state of Texas he’s well within his rights to arrest her so long as the violation isn’t speeding or open container. (Read up on that here should you wish to.)
So there should be no confusion now as to whether or not he had a right to tell her to exit the car.
He asks her multiple times to exit the vehicle. She refuses. He tells her he is giving her a lawful order (and he is, as I just showed you) and if she doesn’t comply he will drag her out of the car if necessary. Once again, she refuses. Finally, after being warned that she will be tased if she doesn’t comply, she complies.
Understand something else, when you’re under arrest, you no longer have the right to hold your phone, to continue video taping, to call your mom or to call your lawyer. Yes, you are allowed to make phone calls, after you’ve been booked into jail. Phone calls are not allowed to be immediately made because suspects can (and have) called family and/or fellow gang members to come and help the arrestee escape custody or kill the officer.
After the handcuffs are on, she continues to move around despite the officer telling her to stand still on the sidewalk. This creates a danger for the officer. You may say, “What danger could she be if she’s in handcuffs?” At which point I would ask you to consider the families of these 8 officers who were killed by handcuffed suspects (and there are many more stories than just these.)
Apparently at some point she attempts to jerk away from him and kicks him in the shin and he forcefully subdues her to prevent further injury to himself. That’s assault on a peace officer, folks. Cut and dry. Simple.
Some have complained that they “illegally searched her car” but officers are required to take an inventory of the vehicle if it’s going to be towed. The purpose is to document all property inside the vehicle so that nothing will “go missing” from the vehicle. It’s to protect the property of the driver and it also protects the officers from false allegations of theft.
Once the officer books an arrestee into jail, the staff at the jail takes custody and the officer leaves. Those who want to blame the arresting officer for Sandra Bland’s death are being absurd. Yes, you can say “Well if he had never arrested her she wouldn’t have ended up dead in a jail cell.” Yeah, we can play the Butterfly Effect game all day. If that TV show I was watching wasn’t so interesting I wouldn’t have stayed up so late watching it and I wouldn’t have hit my snooze button that extra time the next morning, and I wouldn’t have been running late for work, and I wouldn’t have been speeding, and I wouldn’t have ran that red light and T-boned another car in the intersection. So hey insurance company, go after the producers of that TV show OK? It’s their fault!
By that logic any time anyone ever dies in jail, the arresting officer is to blame for their death.
Many have said that Sandra Bland’s death is suspicious and they have already made up their minds that someone murdered her. There’s just no possible way that she would have killed herself they say. But the fact is that by her own admission she was suffering from depression and PTSD, as seen in this video…
In addition, she disclosed that she had attempted suicide in 2014 and reported that she was feeling depressed on the day she was booked in (read more on that here)
Perhaps she was murdered. (Autopsy showed no signs of a defensive struggle and her neck had ligature marks consistent with hanging herself) But to smugly sit there and say “I KNOW she didn’t kill herself, therefore someone HAD to have murdered her” is ridiculous. How could anyone possibly KNOW that unless they were there to witness it? People commit suicide all the time and the unsuspecting family members always say, “I just never saw it coming. Sure, they had some problems. Sure, they struggled with depression sometimes, but I could never have imagined they’d kill themselves.” That kind of story happens ALL. THE. TIME. Did anyone see Robin Williams killing himself? How about Heath Ledger?
Maybe an investigation will show that she was murdered. But don’t you think, especially in light of Ferguson, that we should wait for the facts to come in? Especially as Christians? Shouldn’t we wait for an investigation to be done before we make accusations of racism and murder? Listen, we can mourn with those who mourn without making wild, uneducated accusations. It’s tragic that Sandra Bland died, whether it was suicide or murder, the loss of her life is tragic because yes, her life mattered! But can we agree that officers lives matter too?
As Christians, shouldn’t we be hesitant to demand a pound of flesh from a police officer until there’s some evidence that he is guilty of some wrong doing?
Look, if you want to argue that taking a person to jail for failing to signal a lane change is ridiculous by all means make that argument. But the emotions facts say that the officer was within the parameters established by the Texas Transportation Code to arrest her. If you don’t like it, petition to get the laws changed, but resisting arrest is not the answer. In fact it’s Biblically indefensible.
Edit: Sandra Bland’s autopsy revealed no signs of a struggle, her death has been ruled suicide.
Edit: Many are complaining that Sandra Bland wasn’t read her Miranda rights. Most people (due to TV) don’t understand the function or applicability of the Miranda warning. A Miranda warning is usually given if the officer isn’t sure about something and needs to ask the suspect a question. Any answers to said questions before the Miranda warning is given can be thrown out of court. The Miranda warning notifies the suspect of their rights to NOT answer any questions if they don’t want to and also warns them that from that point forward, any information that they do give can be used in court against them. In the case of Sandra Bland, the officer wasn’t asking her any questions pertaining to the offense she committed. He already had everything he needed to arrest her, he didn’t need to go fishing for clues by asking her questions.