Exclusive Interview: Sandra Bland’s Mom Opens up About Her Daughter and Pens Heartfelt Poem While Attending Opening of “Sandra Bland” Exhibition at HMAAC

This past Saturday, February 3, the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) kicked off Black History Month 2018 with the highly anticipated exhibition, “Sandra Bland,” which runs through Wednesday, February 28.

The exhibit is curated by HMAAC CEO John Guess, Jr., and at the heart of the exhibit is an interactive engagement allowing visitors to experience the emotions of Sandra Bland on the fateful day of her arrest on July 13, 2015, resulting from a traffic stop in Waller County.

The untimely death of Bland, who would have been 31 years old on February 7, is still a major point of discussion for many people in this country, particularly as it relates to advocacy groups fighting for modifications in the current justice system. Critical changes regarding bail reform and other issues relative to the jails and law enforcement agencies across the United States have also become a major point of discussion as a result of what happened to Bland.

One individual who has been fighting to continue Bland’s legacy since the day she died has been her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal. Reed-Veal was in Houston, this past Saturday, February 3, along with Bland’s sister, Shante A. Needham, for the launch of the “Sandra Bland” exhibit at the HMAAC.

While in Houston, Reed-Veal visited with the Forward Times for an exclusive interview to talk about her daughter’s overall legacy and how she has been coping since her daughter’s death.

Although she has been able to move forward since her daughter’s death and stay busy, Reed-Veal tells the Forward Times that it has not been an easy road to travel.

“I have had a lot of feelings about what happened to Sandy and it has been a tough time in my family’s life,” says Reed-Veal. “This was my baby girl, and after finding out what happened to my daughter, I felt numb. I was very angry and frustrated. I had no peace. For about 6 months, I struggled with this. I wasn’t immediately forgiving, even as a licensed minister. It took me a while to focus on forgiveness, but I came to the realization that the forgiveness was for me, not for him (Trooper Brian Encinia).”

Attendee taking in the sights and sounds at the newly launched “Sandra Bland” exhibit at HMAAC

Dash cam video showed the traffic stop in which Trooper Encinia pulls Bland over after he alleges she made an improper lane change near her alma mater Prairie View A&M University. As the video rolls, Trooper Encinia escalates matters during the traffic stop by verbally and physically confronting Bland, where a struggle takes place before Bland is taken into custody.

Another driver recorded cell phone video of the incident is her telling the officers she is in pain and cannot hear after her head was slammed on the ground by the male arresting officer. Authorities immediately released reports saying Bland hanged herself in her Waller County jail cell – which is about 60 miles northwest of Houston – three days after having her head slammed to the ground and being arrested by Trooper Encinia. Investigators said she was found hanging in her cell. The Medical Examiner ruled her death a suicide.

Reed-Veal tells the Forward Times that ever since this tragedy occurred, her focus has been on making sure the world knows that Sandy didn’t die in vain.

“I feel that it is my responsibility to fight to make sure Sandra’s legacy is longstanding for generations to come,” says Reed-Veal. “I want to make it perfectly clear that I didn’t agree with any settlement. I simply agreed to disagree with what they presented me so that I could move on to the next phase. I had to get all of that out of the way so that I could focus on legislation and ordinance changes. And thank God we were able to make some significant changes.”

Through Reed-Veal’s tireless advocacy, not only did the Prairie View City Council have a street renamed after her daughter, she was also able to help get some major operational changes at the Waller County jail, where her daughter died.

According to Reed-Veal, one of the two major changes at the Waller County jail involve having guards do periodic checks when they go past each jail cell to ensure every inmate has been checked on regularly.

Another major change involves the jail now having a 24-hour nurse on staff to make sure every inmate is fully monitored and receiving their proper medication, if applicable.

“I want to see people stepping up and truly being about the people, as opposed to just saying they are for the people,” says Reed-Veal. “You have to care about all people, not just when it’s election time, but when the people need you to address their needs. That is why I will continue to fight to make sure no one else will ever experience what my daughter did.”

In memory of her daughter, Reed-Veal penned an exclusive heartfelt poem entitled, “Happy 31st Birthday Beautiful Sandy B!,” and she tells the Forward Times that she wants the historic media outlet to help share, spread, post and email the poem to everyone all over the world. It goes:

Stand tall, you did that till the very end,

Against all odds you made history

for both women and men.

Never could I have ever imagined not seeing you

on this day,

Dear beautiful Queen, it’s your 31st birthday!

Rattled spiritually, mentally and physically by the loss of you from here,

All I can hear you saying is ‘my birthday is here’!

Beautiful Queen, we celebrate you today!

Loved by many around the world,

Actually millions have tweeted, searched Facebook and inboxed you girl!

Never will your name be forgotten you see,

Don’t doubt, we will do all we can to continue your legacy!

Happy 31st Birthday Beautiful Sandy B!

The Black History Month exhibition, “Sandra Bland,” is being graciously sponsored by Melanie Lawson, HMAAC CEO John Guess, Jr. and the HMAAC Board of Directors. Guess believes that this exhibition will bring multicultural audiences to a better understanding of the fear African Americans have toward encounters with the police.

Shante A. Needham, Sandra Bland’s sister; Jeffrey L. Boney, Forward Times Associate Editor; Geneva Reed-Veal, Sandra Bland’s mother; and John Guess, Jr., HMAAC CEO

According to Guess, “Blacks are familiar with ‘the talk,’ foreign to most Whites, given to Black youth with regard to how to act during encounters with police. This exhibit vividly underscores the basis for ‘the talk;’ the fear that the wrong use of words during encounters with police, which the Stanford study found more likely for minorities, can lead to escalation and result in tragedy.”

Last year, a widely received Stanford University study found that police officers across the United States were more likely to cite, search and arrest Black and Latino drivers during routine traffic stops than White drivers. The study findings, based on a nationwide database of state patrol stops, may be the largest compilation of traffic stop data ever assembled, with details from more than 100 million records of traffic stop-and-search data across 31 states between 2011- 2015. Not only did the study find minorities are ticketed and arrested more often, it also found that police in general will use a lower bar to search minorities than Whites.

A 2016 Associated Press/University of Chicago study found Americans as a whole are divided over how they think police in their local communities treat racial and ethnic minorities.

Forty-five percent of Americans say police treat all races and ethnic groups the same, but a majority (54 percent) say they sometimes treat minority groups more roughly. Blacks (81 percent) are especially likely to say police sometimes treat minority groups more roughly compared to Hispanics (63 percent) and Whites (47 percent). A majority of Whites (52 percent) think police treat all races and ethnic groups equally.

To delve deeper into the subject matter, a community panel will take place as part of the exhibit on February 8 at 6:30 pm at HMAAC, located at 4807 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004.