Geneva Reed-Veal will not let her daughter's untimely death go unforgotten. Almost two years after Sandra Bland was found dead hanging in her cell, Reed-Veal and a Houston lawmaker have teamed up to improve the level of supervision and medical care given to inmates—especially the mentally ill.
Leading the charge for House Bill 2702, which is also called the Sandra Bland Act, is state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. Building on regulations that have been implemented as part of the $1.9 million settlement the Bland family reached with the county, Coleman's bill requires that law enforcement be trained to handle those who suffer with mental health issues including evaluation and ensuring treatment.
It also aims to revamp Texas laws regarding racial profiling with "pretext stops" being one of them. This is a practice where people use a minor violation to pull somebody over in hopes of finding a different offense. "Those pretext stops are legal, but usually move into other circumstances for African Americans, where they are either searched or ticketed or put in jail particularly in comparison to Anglos that are stopped," Coleman said.
Reed-Veal recently testified before the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee to make it crystal clear that this bill does not aim to condemn police. Rather, its purpose is to help them better protect and serve so that no other family has to suffer the way hers has. "...Texas is a place of pain for me. So I need you to think about what you have the power and ability to do today," Reed-Veal said. "I don't hate police...I hate the fact that we do not understand that this has been going on for too long by those who have been charged to serve and protect us."
Well, the clock is ticking and the Sandra Bland Act will have to overcome many obstacles if it is to become law this year. The Texas Legislature will adjourn in less than two months and will not reconvene until 2019. On top of that, Republican leaders have an agenda that focuses heavily on protecting police officers and little on holding them accountable.
While Coleman is adamant about police reform, he also acknowledges that the bill's success hinges upon compromise. "This is the best way to make progress that is not punitive to those who protect us," Coleman said.
Let's hope that the State of Texas gets this one right. Human lives are not negotiable and the people responsible for cutting them short must be held accountable. The time is now for this kind of reform.