Christy Moore

Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose and Sheku Bayoh: The Police, Class, Disability, Ethnicity and Gender

Keven McKenna, in his article for The National on Saturday the 1st of August, likened the current Westminster establishment to aliens in a movie who have no concern for the fellow human beings:

‘In the film Invasion of the Bodysnatchers humans are, one by one, replaced by aliens who have become exact copies of their hosts, but lacking any human emotions.’

Keven McKenna’s article got me thinking and writing about the way current servants of the state have been behaving in Scotland, England and the UK. In particular there have been several examples where the police services in both these countries have failed in their duty to treat citizens as human beings.

Then, as if by serendipity, on Sunday Kevin McKenna chose to turn his gaze onto the problems with the Scottish Police force, see his article here. McKenna’s article made me pose the question, ‘What are the similarities and differences between the Scots and American cases?’

One might imagine that the Scots’ criminal justice system is superior to that in the USA, hopefully this post will help you to make your own judgements concerning that.

Sandra Bland died in police custody in Texas on the 13th of July. Coverage of her arrest, see guardian article here, shows a situation where the police officer Brian Encinia drew Sandra Bland into a conversation which he employed to fabricate an excuse to act in a very stereotypical, aggressive male, way.

In the main Sandra Bland demonstrated silent resistance. Eventually she was drawn into clearly stating her disagreement with being stopped, but did not resist Brian Encinia serving her with the ticket.

Brian Encinia manufactured an opportunity to lose control and as such, followed a well-known modus operandi of male domestic abusers which is to blame their own violence on the woman they are assaulting.

Brian Encinia escalated the situation incredibly quickly after Sandra Bland was drawn into speaking to him. Encinia was quick to move into male domestic abuser mode. The Guardian newspaper explains his process of escalation:

‘The stop escalates into an aggressive confrontation when Encinia asks her: “You mind putting out your cigarette please, if you don’t mind.” She replies: “I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?” The officer tells her: “Well, you can step on out now.” When she refuses, Encinia becomes irate and leans into her car, apparently trying to pull her out. “I’m going to yank you out of here,” he says. “I’m going to drag you out of here.” He pulls what appears to be a Taser out of a holster and shouts: “Get out of the car. I will light you up. Get out. Now.”’

Whilst her door was still closed, Sandra Bland took out her phone and told Encinia that she was calling her lawyer. He yanked at the phone to prevent her from so doing. Some people in the media have questioned Sandra Bland’s behaviour – these people lack any human emotion, they, like Encinia, have no sense of balance, fairness or justice.

The injustice of Sandra Bland’s situation can only be ignored by those who wish to act as apologists for misogyny, racism and violence against women.

Sociologist might tell you that Encinia was misusing disciplinary power – his power as a police officer (ceded to him by the state) to define what is normal and acceptable behaviour.

Sociologists might also mention terms like biopower, governmentality and surveillance. Big words, employed to explain that sometimes servants of the state believe they can do anything they want to citizens.

A less academic, more every day and quicker analysis can be found in Sandra Bland’s own words which proclaimed that Encinia was a weak a man who expected women to cowtow to him, enjoyed abusing the power of his job and got a thrill from physically assaulting a women who would not submit to him.

Each time Sandra Bland called Encinia out for being a power freak his behaviour became more violent.

No one should be under the misapprehension that Encinia’s behaviour followed the legal guidance for how police officers should carry out traffic stops. His behaviour, amongst other things, lacked humanity. Don’t take my word for it, read what the director of the local Public Safety Department said, covered in the New York Times here:

‘Steven McCraw, the director of the public safety department, repeated that Trooper Encinia, 30, who is now on administrative duty, violated department policy, behaved rudely and failed to de-escalate a confrontational situation that ended in Ms. Bland’s arrest’.

Trooper Encinia demonstrated an absolute failure to: respect Sandra’s Bland’s wish for him: to avoid conversation (and her right to remain silent); to recognise the sanctity of her personal place (Sandra Bland’s position seated in her own car); and to respect her physical space (Sandra Bland’s right not to have him come into contact with and abuse the integrity of her body).

The fact that Sandra Bland was black is as important as the fact that she was a woman. The racist oppression of black citizens in the USA is historically centred on the presumption that black men and woman do not have equal access to and rights to social space and place.

The deplorable history of segregation means that mainstream culture and history in America fails to value black women and does not give recognition to black women’s agency. That there has been only one black winner of the best actress award in 87 Oscar ceremonies, tells you all you need to know about main stream America’s view of strong black women.

Sandra Bland’s mistreatment also included issues of class and disability. The fact that the bail system is structured to incarcerate people on lower incomes meant that Sandra bland was prevented from being quickly released.

When we add the barriers of a discriminatory bail system to reports that Sandra Bland had previously experienced depression, we can deduce that the case also involves disability rights. Systems that incarcerate people with mental health issues, without thought for their welfare, demonstrate a particular dismissive type of cruel and unthinking inhumanity.

What struck me about Sandra Bland’s case was that I had seen such cruelty before but in a completely different context and not with such life ending consequences.

Whilst working in schools I encountered a type of female teacher who targeted pupils from poorer backgrounds. It is stereotyping to say that this type of teacher always seemed to wear a, Margaret Thatcher type regulation issue, navy blue Twin Set and Pearls but it might also be true.

This type of teacher was firmly of the view that pupils should provide her with respect, whatever the circumstance – she associated respect with position and did not recognise the need to earn respect from the pupils.

Later, I would learn that these type of people’s bullying behaviour was in fact based on their own weaknesses, such as their fear of losing face, and was often a displacement of their own oppression by people above them in the organisational hierarchy.

In one case, I was new to working in a school and there was a bit of commotion in the staffroom one morning when a Twin Set and Pearls type woman had an argument with one of the more sensitive members of staff.

It turned out that a boy who had been suspended from the school for a short while (who was known to have mental health issues) was returning to the school that day. The Twin Set and Pearls woman had said that she would ensure he was excluded by the end of the day – she intended to act as judge, jury and executioner.

I also came across this type of person when running learning opportunities for professionals on the topic of children and the law. I particularly remember a very tense class which involved a professional from the children’s secure residential sector arguing that human rights did not apply to her setting.

I have also heard this over the years from upper middle class male professionals in private sector education and working class female professionals in the early years sector. It should be noted that these professionals are in a minority, however, their anti-human rights perspective enables them and other professionals to ignore the psychological and physical abuse of children in their care.

I have also worked with a very experienced social worker who told me a story that involved him taking over the management of a residential secure unit where staff had a reputation for violence against young people.

One of his first steps, taken in order to reduce the physical abuse of young people, was to introduce official written forms for documenting the use of restraint . This was at a time when social work settings were not yet overwhelmed by top down paper work.

He found that once staff had to take the time to fill in a form explaining their actions, they stopped using physical restraint. This enabled him to begin to change the culture of the setting into one where adults appreciated and nurtured their relationships with young people.  He attempted to turned the unit into an appreciative setting, rather than, one where adults unreflexively destroyed young people’s sense of being.

The lesson to be learned from this example is that professionals, when given an incentive and the opportunity to reflect on their actions, could find more relational ways to work and could work without any need to restrain young people. Brains and relationships, not brawn and power, were and still are the solution.

Similarly, if you read the Plymouth early years childcare abuse scandal report you will see that the context within which child abuse was enabled to take place included: weak governance; a lack of clear lines of accountability; and arbitrary use of power.

A bullying culture and favouritism meant that staff, who had concerns, did not feel able to challenge the staff member who was perpetrating the abuse of very young children, see the report here.

Arbitrary use of power and bullying cultures will haunt any organisation in which they are enabled to exist. Indeed, I have also encountered these cultures in academia. There is a type of academic who revels in their own malice.

In some ways, the nature of the sector encourages this. Junior academics can make their name by tearing apart the work of others, they can gain promotion by using their colleagues reputations as a ladder and the blind refereeing process means that people can tear apart each other’s characters behind a veil of confidentiality.

As I have said in this blog before, in educational studies these nasty people are the type of person that adopts the discourse of social justice but never actually practices social justice.

Such people have no qualms about destroying the sense of well-being of their fellow citizens – they don’t kill people with bullets but they suck the life out of their colleagues at the same time as suffocating the aspirations of the young people they are supposed to be supporting.

If a person in power sets their mind to pushing your buttons it is very difficult to extract yourself from the situation. If they decide to besmirch you, block your opportunities or bully you, you have to be a saint not to react. If you have been raised to stand up to bullies – it is impossible to walk away.

Such examples reminded me of Sandra Bland’s case because Steven McCraw was quoted in the New York Times article as indicating that Encinia’s arbitrary use of power created the catalyst for Sandra Bland’s death. Sandra Bland did not cowtow to Encinia and he wasn’t satisfied till she was face down in the grounds, in hand cuffs, with his knee on her head.

That’s why we have human rights enshrined in law, policy and guidance. Rights are enshrined in public legislation, documents and practices to protect us when other people try to say we are acting irresponsibly.

Human rights should protect us when other people interpret our behaviour in a deficit way and when people like Encinia try to crush our agency. Sadly, policy and legislation only goes so far and we rely on professional practice to keep us safe – policy and guidance did not protect Sandra Bland when Encinia wilfully ignored protocol.

We are supposed to be able to voice our opinions without being attacked, beaten or incarcerated. Such human rights were not afforded to Sandra Bland who was placed at the sharp end of Encinia’s arbitrary use of power.

In the UK in the 1980s, such rights were also not afforded to Striking Minors or Traveller convoys, nor were they afforded to Irish men and women fitted up for crimes they did not commit. Power and difference are dangerous bed fellows.

Sandra Bland’s case connected issues of ethnicity, disability, class and gender. Black Feminist Sociologists have used the term, intersectionality, for analysing the way that black women’s lives, their social location and bodies are a site of multiple forms of power, discrimination and inequality

For a fuller explanation of intersectionality see Akwugo Emejulu’s slides from a recent seminar here and these articles which outline different definitions of intersectionality Castiello Jones et al and Vivian May.

In Scotland, Akwugo Emejulu’s work clearly associats intersectionality with: the way systems work, issues of power and intersections of difference. She encourages us to understand the complexity of people’s lives, rather than thinking only in terms of homogenous groups (e.g. that all people of one ethnicity are the same).

As I have said before in this blog, once a person creates social distance by picking on issues of difference, they can behave in appalling ways and Akwugo Emejulu’s work encourages us to analyse Encinia’s treatment of Sandra Bland in complex ways.

This situation was not a single issue situation, the difference between Encinia and Sandra Bland was multifaceted and the context of Sandra Bland’s death involved an intersection of a range of issues including ethnicity, gender, class, and disability.

Vivian May in her article, “Speaking into the Void”?, explains how Kimberle Crenshaw developed the term intersectionality with the aim of making the variety of black women’s lives more obvious and demonstrating how, for example, the lives and capabilities of black women who were writers/thinkers had been ignored:

‘Identifying intersectionality as a concept with an under-recognized history in a tradition oriented toward social change, Crenshaw indicates countless erased lives, forgotten stories, and ignored systems of signification developed by black women thinkers that intersectionality seeks to render perceptible.’

Thinking on intersectionality seeks to question the relationship between knowledge/power and challenge processes of hierarchy and subjection that seek to label, put into neat boxes and subsequently oppress the lives of black women. The video evidence in Sandra Bland’s case prevented her views from being silenced.

At the centre of Crenshaw’s analysis are questions about how society has ignored the lives of black women. Jamilah Lemieux analysed a similar question in an article about the death of Sandra Bland, see here, entitled, ’Why has it taken so long for a black woman’s life to matter?’.

The article poses the question why has there been such a huge reaction to Sandra Bland’s treatment and answers that this reaction occurred because people finally realised it could happen to anyone and because Sandra Bland’s experience provides a gateway into #BlackLivesMatter:

‘Sandra defended our people in her #SandySpeaks videos and she defended herself against a ridiculous arrest from an overly aggressive officer. Watching that dashcam video, which I avoided as long as possible, I recognized that tone of voice—the universal language of “this white man got me fucked up,” that audacious blackness demanding to be treated like a human, like an equal, like someone who isn’t supposed to be dragged and slammed and arrested for having agency. Sandra didn’t resist arrest, she resisted the notion that she was supposed to submit to a cop like he was her overseer or master.’

Jamilah Lemieux’s article poses another question: Why do the circumstances have to be so extraordinary for people who are not black women to give a damn about black women? A point well made, that brought some unreflexive responses in the comments section below Jamilah Lemieux’s article.

This is something that came out in research I carried out with colleagues into black and minority ethnicity families experiences of early years services in Scotland. It became clear to us that many services employed a tick box approach to ethnicity, simply running the odd culture day to show they were doing something.

The tick box approach could be contrasted with more progressive settings that engaged with structural issues of gender, ethnicity, class, and disability and were able to analyse power relationships, including for example, who got invited to staff/parent socials, who’s stories got cut off during ever-day conversations (e.g. at drop off times), who became volunteers and who were co-opted onto the nursery steering group.

The status quo involved early years settings having policies about racism that were reactive rather than employing practices, ways of being, that enabled minority ethnic children, parents and staff to take proactive and powerful roles and recognised the intersections of inequality.

Recent research has demonstrated that, in Scotland, the BA in Childhood Practice is beginning to impact on this situation in early years settings but that a lot more needs to be done to enable professionals to put their knowledge about racism, sexism, homophobia, disablism, etc. into practice.

Most people are a complex combination of these identities and Akwugo Emejulu also poses the question, ‘what kinds of alliances have to be built to address intersectional inequalities?’

Intersectional thinking questions the way that people in positions of power (e.g. media commentators, politicians, public servants, professionals, local organisers, etc) label those who seek to challenge their power.

To create alliances we need to think about shifting power relations with in our everyday lives. For the less progressive of you reading this article, pause and think for a moment: When was the last time you interacted in your home, went for drinks with, shared food with and/or undertook an activity that was led by people who are a different ethnicity, sexuality, age, class, religion or disability to your-self?

This raises a further question of how embedded in the way you live your everyday life are the practices of equity, social justice and intersectionality? All you guys running around Scotland over the last couple of years shouting about social justice – do you actually live it?

Since the #indyref, lots of people have come to understand issues of power in Scotland. It is as if a veil has been taken from their eyes and they can suddenly see how the privileged elite operate.

We are all subjected to power hierarchies but some people experience this more often than others. It is easy for people to talk a good game on equity issues; it is less easy for them to practice what they preach. As Christie Moore sings in the song, On The Bridge, ‘When trouble gets too close to home, my anger turns to fear’. It takes bravery to stand up to oppression and to practice social justice.

I often see people talking about social justice but not practicing it. I have worked with lots of young men and women over the years who have come up against arbitrary abuse of power which have deprived them of justice. These injustices include people in power accusing these young people of behaving like animals or being ‘evil’ just because they attempted to fight their oppression and refused to cowtow to arbitrarily imposed rules.

I was reminded of some of these young people when I read The Guardian coverage of the killing of Samuel DuBose on the 19th of July see here. Again the case involved a police video (this time from a Campus Cop’s lapel camera).

Ray Tensing stopped Samuel DuBose because he was missing a front number plate. Samuel DuBose helpfully suggested Tensing run his details. Then Samuel DuBose’s car lurched forward and Ray Tensing drew his gun and murdered Samuel DuBose by shooting him from point blank range. The Guardian article tells us:

‘Tensing had maintained he was “dragged” by DuBose’s vehicle after the two entered into a physical altercation and was forced to shoot, but Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said body-camera evidence completely contradicted this account.’

Ray Tensing and Brian Encinia have something in common. In both video’s, the officers know they have not behaved humanely and they immediately appeal to their arriving colleagues to validate, back up and cover for their actions.

Encinia has apparently been placed on ‘administrative duties’. Ray Tensing’s lapel camera made it possible for Tensing to be prosecuted for murder. Joseph Deters stated:

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years… …This is the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make, totally unwarranted.”

Joseph Deters avoided deficit thinking, changed the traditional power relation, did not attributed blame to Samuel DuBose and quickly summarised what had actually happened.

Aubrey DuBose, Samuel’s sister, connected Tensing’s arrest to the use of lapel cameras. The New York Times stated that she indicated that the cameras didn’t prevent the crime, but they prevented the cover-up.

Such accountability does not appear, as yet, to be associated with Sandra Bland’s death. Jamilah Lemieux’s article concludes:

‘The accountability we are demanding for all involved in Sandra Bland’s death, the questions we are raising, the outrage we are expressing, this should be the standard for all victims of police violence. She will stay with me forever. The memory of her voice, her mission and her conviction will live in my thoughts and in my writing. Let’s honour Sandra, and the countless women, children, and men lost before her by being just as vigilant every single time. Looking away cannot be an option.’

Looking away cannot be an option. And, this can help us understand events in Scotland. Kevin McKenna writes today in the Guardian of the tragic incompetence of police Scotland in the case of Lamara Bell and John Yuill who died after it took the police three days to find there crashed car.

Kevin McKenna utilises their case to raises questions concerning the:

‘The shambolic reign of Stephen House, chief constable of Police Scotland’

McKenna points out that House has already compromised the investigation into the case by blaming it on a police systems operator. McKenna’s ire is not reserved for House; the Scottish Government Justice Secretary also comes in for stick:

‘We have come to expect this from an individual for whom the normal rules of accountability in high public office do not seem to apply. We expect better from his boss, Scotland’s justice minister, Michael Matheson, who is already exhibiting signs of a failure to control the police chief that eventually did for his predecessor, Kenny MacAskill. Matheson, unforgivably, also went down the route of making a scapegoat of a nameless and hapless junior employee before the “independent”’ investigation was even underway. There’s a reason why the word “justice” is included in your ministerial title, Michael.’

Contrast Police Scotland’s blame culture approach with Joseph Deters straight forward admission in the USA. Police Scotland talks a good game on equity, diversity and social justice but McKenna’s charge appears to be that when House, (and for that matter the Justice Secretary), needs to stop and think in a socially just way – he fails the test.

McKenna charges House with being willing to throw a junior staff member under the media bus in an attempt to save his career.

Kevin McKenna accurately identifies where Police Scotland are out of control, three areas include: stop and search; surveillance of journalists; and deployment of armed police. But it is when McKenna analyses the case of Sheku Bayoh, who died after being arrested by Police, that we can connect with and learn from the cases in the USA. Kevin McKenna states:

‘It was, though, the death in police custody of Sheku Bayoh following an incident in Kirkcaldy that has provided a sinister undertone to issues surrounding the culture and attitudes of our national police force. The 31-year-old father of two had no previous history of violence yet his family were subjected to an astonishing volley of criticism from a solicitor representing the Scottish Police Federation when a period of silence would have been more appropriate.’

The Scottish Police Federation set out to define the media narrative concerning Sheku Bayoh and focus attention on his, ‘apparent’ life threatening behaviour towards a female police officer. The Guardian article tells us that the family’s lawyer Aemer Anwar has found that there is no evidence to substantiate this accusation:

‘Anwar said there was no evidence for this: the PIRC has said instead that the officer went to a local hospital with Bayoh for a check-up, and was discharged shortly afterwards.’

Jamilah Lemieux’s article concerning Sandra Bland’s death raised two key questions, Would she have received as much attention if she hadn’t been such a good person? And, Would there have been any complaints if the Police had been able to characterise her as a criminal?

This is exactly what the Scottish Police Federation, employing the playbook from the Hillsborough scandal, attempted to do to Sheku Bayoh’s reputation. The Scottish Police Federation did not count on his family and his sister’s being able to appoint lawyers who would unearth a very different story and for journalists such as Kevin McKenna to report it:

‘The family of Mr Bayoh have since made their own investigations and claim that several different versions of the incident were given by the police; that their 5ft 10ins, 12st 10lb son was held down by five police officers including one weighing in at 25st and 6ft 4ins tall. He was not carrying a weapon as police later claimed and nor was there any question of a threat to national security as had also been suggested.’

It has since emerged, with an eerie echo of the Eric Garner, ‘I can’t breathe case’, that Sheku Bayoh may have died of asphyxiation and had been sprayed with CS gas and pepper spray, see Guardian article here.

The Scottish Police Federation, appear to have employed an intersection of ethnicity, gender, disability and class when attempting to define the narrative of Sheku Bayoh’s death. They appear to be unaware of the connections this enables us to make with Sandra Bland’s treatment.

The thing that is troubling when we compare the cases is that there are so many unanswered questions that include:

Why is the media profile of Sheku Bayoh’s case in Scotland so different from the media profile of cases in the USA?

Where is the video from the phone camera of a passer buy? Are there local security videos that can clarify Sheku Bayoh’s treatment?

Do the police have their video evidence from their own cameras?

Why did the press enable the Scottish Police Federation to put out stories that we now find out were uncorroborated?

Are you as fed up as me with the mainstream media in Scotland’s inability to challenge establishment discourses, there reluctance to refuse to print unsubstantiated stories and their reticence to pose difficult questions to establishment figures?

Jamilah Lemieux’s article may provide an explanation as to why the Scottish Police Federation acted in the way it did. It would appear that by making Sheku Bayoh out to be a violent criminal with mental health issues the Scottish Police Federation closed the story down on the day and the press didn’t do their job.

This raises the question for us now such as:

What support are Sheku Bayoh’s family receiving from the #indyref new media to help them unearth the truth?

Are #indyref inspired on-line journalists as engaged as Kevin McKenna in this story?

Are they doing their job and ferreting out information that will enable us to understand what happened?

Or, are we going to have to wait to find out the truth?

In the case of Hillsborough, it took 25 years for the most senior officer in charge to admit he lied on the day. The inhumanity of this act, the corruption of documentary evidence of eye witness and the subsequent Thatcher government cover up is also echoed in the cover up of historical child abuse scandals most notable involving, yet again, South Yorkshire Police.

What we learn from all the recent scandals, involving the police and political representatives in England, is that some people in positions of power do not care about the lives of every-day people and, selfishly, are only too willing to subject them to cruel and inhumane treatment.

Whether in Scotland, England or the USA we need to root out such people and expose more quickly the cruelty of public servants who lie and cover for the lies of others. Justice delayed is not simply justice denied – justice delayed prevents individuals and their families from grieving and inhumanely takes a sustained toll on their very being and living spirit.

We need to challenge such behaviour because our society runs on a combination of self-surveillance and consent. We provide consent to public servants to carry out their duties humanly when engaging with the public – when they abuse this consent, the system crumbles.

In Scotland this is a key test for the SNP government, if they intend to demonstrate their social justice credentials, the truth about a series of cases of police ineptitude must come out in a timely and frank fashion.

The Scottish Parliament must unite to confront the wrongs of a police system that seems to be careering out of control and agree changes that protect us all from what Kevin McKenna has identified as incompetence, arbitrary use of power and illegal behaviour.