Supplemental: What actually happened to Sandra Bland?

MONDAY, JULY 20, 2015

Charles Blow selectively muses:
What ever happened to Sandra Bland, who recently died in a jail in Waller County, Texas?

In his current New York Times column, Charles Blow asks that question. He focuses on Bland’s alleged suicide by hanging, not on her somewhat puzzling prior arrest.

Why would Sandra Bland have taken her own life? Obviously, we have no way of knowing. Obviously, neither does Blow.

At some length, this is Blow’s approach to the question. Warning! Thumbs on scales!
BLOW (7/20/15): Last week...America and the social justice movement focused on the mysterious cases of two black women who died in police custody.

The first and most prominent was Sandra Bland, a black woman from suburban Chicago who had moved to Texas to take a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A & M University, a historically black school about 50 miles northwest of Houston.

She never started that job. After being arrested following a traffic stop, Bland was found dead in her jail cell. The police say she killed herself. Her family and friends doubt it.

As The New York Times reported last week: Bland “was arrested last Friday in Waller County by an officer with the Texas Department of Public Safety on a charge of assaulting a public servant. She had been pulled over for failing to signal a lane change.”

The Times continued:

“A statement from the Waller County Sheriff’s Office said that the cause of Ms. Bland’s death appeared to be self-inflicted asphyxiation. An autopsy on Tuesday classified her death as suicide by hanging, according to The Chicago Tribune.”

Indeed, the Waller County district attorney, Elton Mathis, told a Houston station last week: “I will admit it is strange someone who had everything going for her would have taken her own life.”

According to NBC News, Mathis also said: “If there was something nefarious, or if there was some foul play involved, we’ll get to the bottom of that.”

The F.B.I. has joined that investigation.
After discussing a second, similar jail house death, Blow tells us that the claims by police in each of these cases seems odd:
BLOW: The deaths seem odd: young women killing themselves after only being jailed only a few days or a less than a couple hours, before a trial or conviction, for relatively minor crimes.

And the official explanations that they were suicides run counter to prevailing patterns of behavior as documented by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which has found that, on the whole, men are more likely to commit suicide in local jails than women, young people are less likely to do so than older people, and black people are the least likely to do so than any other racial or ethnic group.

That doesn’t mean that these women didn’t commit suicide, but it does help to explain why their coinciding deaths might be hard for people to accept.
To state the obvious, any suicide in a jail “run[s] counter to prevailing patterns of behavior as documented by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.” Very few people commit suicide in jail, as an initially-bungled New York Times graphic clearly establishes.

(On line, the bungle has been corrected, although it confused a bunch of commenters. In our hard-copy Times, the initial bungle is of course still sitting right there.)

According to Blow’s graphic, 43 out of 100,000 male prisoners commit suicide in jail. The corresponding number for women is 32 out of 100,000, a number which is even less!

Blow wastes our time with such minor distinctions; he does this again and again, insinuating foul play. As he does, he omits the part of Bland’s back-story which conceivably could suggest a reason why she, and not all those other people, might have taken her own life.

Did Sarah Bland kill herself in jail? Like Blow, we have no earthly way of knowing. But we do know how to seek information about matters which are important, and we know that it is evil and wrong to disappear facts which might keep you from getting your audience all worked up in the way which makes you feel noble and strong.

Did Sandra Bland take her own life? We have no way of knowing. But many news orgs, from the AP on down, have reported her Facebook posts last March, in which, to quote the Houston Chronicle, “she discussed suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress.”

Did Sandra Bland suffer from depression? We can’t answer that. But this account appeared early Saturday morning on the site of the Chicago Tribune, in Bland’s home state of Illinois:
ZIEZULEWICZ (7/18/20): While Bland's family members said last week that they had no indication the woman intended to harm herself after being arrested July 10, she said in a Facebook video earlier this year that she was suffering from "a little bit of depression as well as PTSD," or post-traumatic stress disorder. She did not explain the cause of the PTSD.

In a video posted three days later, she elaborated.

"I want you guys to know it's a daily struggle. It's a daily test," she said. "Depression is nothing but the devil.
It's a way of mind and it's a way of thinking." She recommended prayer to cut through the fog.
That same account appeared at other Illinois news orgs at least as early as last Friday, sourced to the AP. Three days later, Blow is trying to get us all whipped up, the way the hustlers and music men have always done all through the annals of time.

We don’t know if Sandra Bland took her own life. That said, depression can be deadly, as everyone understands.

It doesn’t mean you’re not a good person. It means you’re suffering, as those AP news reports said—suffering from something which may prove hard to defeat.

We also don’t know if Charles Blow is really a journalist. Increasingly, he seems to behave like a classic hustler. The deaths of much-beloved people like Bland have always been music to such music men’s ears.

Our own tribe’s exalted leaders just keep behaving this way. They do this again and again and again. Nothing will make them stop.

We’ve seen Sean play these games of omission a million times. In truth, Our Own Tribe’s exalted leaders often seem to behave a great deal like Theirs.

54 comments:

  1. I would hardly call Mr. Blow's column an example of "thumb on the scale". As he says in the middle of his piece:

    "That doesn’t mean that these women didn’t commit suicide, but it does help to explain why their coinciding deaths might be hard for people to accept."

    To me, given the history of police violence against African-Americans, this seems like an entirely reasonable proposition.

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    1. If it seems more reasonable to believe that cops would hang someone arrested on a minor traffic stop than to believe that person was depressed and stressed and committed a desperate act, then something is truly wrong with your view of policing. No facts support the idea that cops are so corrupt as to hang young women under the circumstances described in these two cases, simply because they are African American. What on earth is "entirely reasonable" about that?

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    2. No facts? Please review history of lynching.

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    3. When was the last lynching, historically speaking.

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    4. An unfortunate white boy was hanged for commenting while stupid just a few moments ago.

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    5. A comment like this means you're too stupid to understand statistics and should, along with Blow, refrain from political discussion until you've improved your analytical ability.

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    6. It seems incessant commentary is a sign of excessive self regard.

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  2. The news reports of the Chattanooga shooting keep saying they don't know the motive for the attack. They either omit or gloss over the Islamic verse Abdulazeez sent a friend before the attack. That verse is one also quoted by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her chapter on Jihad, one of the scriptures that justifies in the minds of fundamentalist Muslims (who she refers to as Medina Muslims). According to a family representative (described by ABC News online): "For all his struggles with drugs, the representative said, Abdulazeez also struggled with being a devout Muslim." The problem with the way jihad is described in Islamic scripture is that it promises a path to heaven and redemption of sins through martyrdom. It doesn't matter what that martyr has done, which laws he or she has broken, the path to heaven is direct, that heaven is better than one earned through devout adherence to law, and it includes intercession for family and friends in the after life. It would appeal to a young person having difficulty adhering to faith but believing it to be necessary for one's after life. Couple that with depression and there doesn't seem to be a lot of mystery here. So why does the news media pretend his actions are inexplicable. The only way they make sense is in the context of the pathway provided by martyrdom in fundamentalist Islamic teachings (which I agree fully are not mainstream Islam). I see this as a parallel to Blow's descriptions of Bland's suicide in jail. The facts required to make sense of her actions are being denied because they do not fit preferred beliefs, in Bland's case, beliefs of family (which are understandable) and of activists. It is hard to see someone's tragedy used for political purposes, even when the cause might be a good one.

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    1. Is see your comment as parallel to Somerby's logic.

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    2. The United States is a very large country. Whatever you want to talk about, you can probably find it happening somewhere pretty much every day—or at least every week, or possibly every month.

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    3. It is a shame people avoid the facts which make sense to me.

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    4. An unfortunate white boy was hanged for commenting while stupid just a few moments ago.

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    5. Hanging is such a funny topic to make jokes about, ha ha ha ha ha ha.

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    6. Or it could be another example of the wayward nesting habits of commentary. OTOH an incessant commenter would have noticed it elsewhere, commented on it, then forgotten she had done so.

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  3. "Did Sarah Bland kill herself in jail? Like Blow, we have no earthly way of knowing," writes Bob Somerby.

    So, you might ask, what does Bob Somerby know?

    He know a lot.

    He knows "part of Bland’s back-story... conceivably could suggest a reason why she....might have taken her own life."

    So he doesn't know if she took her own life, but he knows there is part of her background story which conceivably could suggest a reason why she might have.

    And Bob Somerby also knows Blow omitted this piece of background which conceivably could suggest a reason she could have done something. Of course, at the risk of repeating ourselves, he not only doesn't know if she did that something, he has "no earthly way" of knowing if she did it.

    Bob Somerby knows another thing. What Charles Blow did was "evil and wrong" and done to work up his readers so Blow could "feel noble and strong."

    Is Charles Blow "insinuating foul play." Bob Somerby seems to want you, his readers, to get all whipped up, so he omits this passage from Blow's column:

    "We have to wait to see what, if any, new information comes out about these cases. But it is right to resist simple explanations for extraordinary events.

    These black women’s lives must matter enough for there to be full investigations of the events surrounding their deaths to assure their families and the public that no “foul play” was involved."

    Bob Somerby omits Blow's "wait and see" call for a full investigation which "conceivably could suggest"* Blow believes it is possible no foul play was involved. Is that because it runs counter to what Somerby says about Blow insinuating foul play was involved. Is it "evil and wrong" for him to have done so? Does omitting this make Bob feel "noble and strong?"

    We know Bob Somerby is not a journalist. No education or professional background in the field. He needed neither to become a teacher or a comedian. Now he is not pretending to be a journalist. Just a critic. Competent to tell us about horrible things that violate principles of journalistic practice. And then demonstrate them himself.

    * The words "conceivably could suggest" should not be interpreted as belonging to Blow. They belong to Somerby. Blow is a "hustler" who insinuates. Somerby is a thoughtful blogger who carefully modifies and hedges because "everything is possible."

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    1. It's possible reasonable people can interpret this differently, but I don't think your quote balances out Blow's intention, and I think Bob gets this one right. He could state his take in a simpler, more straightforward fashion, and his post would be half as long.

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    2. Greg, it is also possible a reasonable person could offer the possibility that in between the two points of view is another conceivable suggestion.

      A woman who had been depressed due to lack of a job got one. Elated, she drove from Chicago to Texas. There she is stopped on a bullshit traffic violation, gives some lip to the officer, and is thrown in jail. Being jailed for three days on a bullshit charge without anyone making her bail retriggers her depression and she hangs herself.

      My possible scenario allows me to take note that Somerby mentions, but only in fleeting fashion, "her somewhat puzzling arrest." Blow, were he truly "evil" and eager to feel "noble and strong" would and certainly could have raised all sorts of insinuations about the puzzling traffic stop. He omits that too.

      As an aside, I am a sixty something white male. I have driven through Waller County hundreds of times traversing my way in between Houston and Austin and back with a life history of driving like the proverbial bat out of hell. I am a habitual non signaling lane changer. I have never been stopped there by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

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    3. Why did either you or Bland think it is OK to not signal your lane changes? Just because you aren't caught doesn't mean it is OK to do and that you shouldn't be given a ticket for it. But she wasn't put in jail for failure to signal a lane change. She behaved badly with the officer. Why did she think it was OK to do that? Who is teaching African American people that it is racism if cops don't put up with their garbage during traffic stops? As a 60 year old white male, would you have given the officer a hard time if you had been stopped? I seriously doubt it.

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    4. Mercy, mercy the boys and girls from Cracker College of Commentary have an online course this morning. What is the subject today, boys and girls? African-American Generalization 101? 9:47/9:40 already is at the head of the class.

      I can't speak for 9:11 but if I get pulled over I am sure as hell likely to take the stop as an opportunity for a smoke break. And if a cop told me to put it out I probably would have given him some shit. Like the amount of taxes on my smokes that go to pay his unfortunately low salary as a state trooper.

      Smoking while sitting in your car is not a violation of anything. Yet.

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    5. Do what the cops tell you to do. Black people, tell other black people to do what the cops tell you to do. Most white people tell other white people to do this. Not doing what the cops tell you to do evidences the kind of thing Darwin talked about.

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    6. Darwin obviously said nothing to your parents about "protection."

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  4. Your complaint would make sense if there were not already information available from Bland's webpage about her depression -- expressed in her own words. Wait and see is fine but it doesn't explain why Blow would deliberately omit information readily available elsewhere in order to lead readers to speculate about police actions. When you remove any other suggestion from the equation, and talk about the events in the context of police abuse, the reader is encouraged to speculate about what abuse must have taken place in Bland's case. The inclusion of Blow's suggestion that new information might emerge changes nothing about that. Blow is supposed to know about all the info currently available -- it is his job as a journalist. That he chose to leave some out in order to encourage speculation about police wrongdoing is wrong -- no matter what Somerby may or may not have included from Blow's article.

    I dislike Somerby's insistence on always asserting that he doesn't know what happened, that perhaps no one does. It is tiresome and annoying. I understand why he does it -- to help people keep an open mind and to remind us that we were not witnesses, no matter what we think we understand about a situation. You seem to think that gives you carte blanche to shit all over Somerby's posts. We always act in the absence of complete knowledge and we must draw conclusions in life or we would be immobilized waiting for perfect knowledge. Reason allows us to draw conclusions in the face of uncertainty. It is more reasonable to present the FACT of Bland's own statements from her Facebook page, then to leave them out so that readers can assume those out-of-control police probably killed her (why? because she is black and cops always kill black people for no good reason). This is evil because it worsens race relations and causes African Americans greater stress than their lives demand, perhaps even contributing to greater tragedy through mutual distrust. Blow is being irresponsible.

    But you don't care about any of this. You only care about attacking Somerby. That is your particular pathology. God alone knows why you behave this way.

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    1. This is addressed to @5:14 -- it didn't nest properly in the comments. Sorry.

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    2. 5:14(the troll) loves Bob Somerby beyond measure. She is irredeemably sad that he does not read the comments. She leaves fan fiction for him almost every day. If you do not feel for her, you have no heart.

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    3. She wants him to live up to his standards. Plus he doesn't seem to have a love interest in his life.

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    4. Do comments nest? I thought they burrowed.

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  5. The NYT regularly ignores Bahrain, Honduras, Palestine. They pushed Bernie Sanders to the back pages and now he's rising in the polls. Time to rescue the brand! Quick, what's something all the cool kids are talking about? Go for it Blow! Red meat for the masses!

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  6. "Statistics" is the friend of the incompetent, especially cops and journalists.

    This unfortunate lady as the victim of a revenue raising (or possibly racist....she could not have known the difference) traffic stop, and showed indignation..The cops escalated the situation and confirmed her belief she was being victimized. Humiliated, incarcerated, and despairing that her beliefs cops were scoundrels had been confirmed, she took her life. So...The jailers didn't hang her but the cops created the despair that killed her...Proximate cause of death? The cops Resolution? Unfortunately, only civil actions.

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    1. Because she is African American she is permitted to make lane changes without signaling, to be uncooperative when being given a ticket, to ignore police requests that she stop smoking and stay off her cell phone during the process, and it is OK for her to kick the cop and otherwise resist arrest. Those are all rights African Americans claim. All the jailers did (according to video) was offer her breakfast, explain how to make a phone call, and leave her alone in her cell (which was individual, unshared with any other arrestee). They never entered her cell. Lots of abuse there. But this was clearly murder?

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    2. What a retarded comment. "My hostility created by libs made me not want to cooperate, and later kill myself."

      That's a slam dunk case alright, under the Feelz Clause of the Eleventeenth Amendment.

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    3. You are still two comments behind the Cracker College class leader 10:21. The z is cute though.

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    4. Having determined she wasn't murdered, Unknown decides to go further into ridiculous contortions to try to blame the cops anyway. This is why no one takes you seriously.

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    5. At Salon, Palumbo-Liu is claiming she had a broken arm. Did the autopsy confirm that or is this an embellishment?

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  7. Maybe I am getting as crazy as Somerby, Blow, and most of you regulars. But did it occur to you guys that the snippets about what was on this lady's Facebook page are in themselves "thumbs on the scale" and highly edited items taken out of context which probably omit hundreds if not thousands of other entries which might be clues to the mental condition of Ms. Bland? Did Blow omit the things Bob said? Yes. Did Somerby omit all the things her relatives said about how positive she was about her new job? Yes.

    I won't say people with axes always grind them. But both Somerby and Blow seem to be professionals or semi-professionals in the axe grinding business.

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    1. Bland's mental condition is obvious. She committed suicide. Her family doesn't want to acknowledge that fact -- this happens frequently when someone has committed suicide, for obvious reasons.

      People with political motives are using her suicide to advance their own goals. In doing so, they are exploiting her family's reaction. I don't find that admirable, but your mileage may vary.

      She was a person, not a cause. Remembering her as a person and not splashing her name and her tragedy across the news would be more respectful of the woman. Somehow, a group of people with their own axe believes that the details of Bland's life belong to them, to be used to justify disrupting political campaign activities and so on. I find myself wondering whether Bland would have wanted to become a circus act like this. If part of her suicide involved shame at possibly losing her new job after behaving stupidly and getting herself arrested, maybe she wouldn't have wanted everyone to see how she had screwed up her life. Why didn't she call any of those many friends and relatives now clamoring about her murder?

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    2. From the Associated Press 7/17

      "Bland's sister, Shante Needham, said Bland had called her from jail Saturday afternoon, telling her that she'd been arrested, but didn't know why. She also said an officer had placed his knee in her back and she thought her arm had been broken.

      "She was very aggravated. She seemed to be in pain.She really felt that her arm had been fractured," Needham said, holding back tears. "I told her I would work on getting her out."

      Blow omitted this although it is far more incendiary than anything he wrote. Somerby did not curse or credit Blow with this omission. Oh, and he omitted it too.

      You are a person. Your mindset if part of the cause.

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    3. What is incendiary about it?

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    4. A comment like this means you're too stupid to understand angry liberals and should, along with Blow and Somerby, refrain from political discussion until you've improved your analytical ability.

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  8. When did liberals get as dumb as Blow is?

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    1. Don't let Somerby's demonstrations fool you into generalizing about the rest of his tribe.

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  9. Here is what was reported about the Netroots Nation demonstration:

    "Cutting off O'Malley's prepared remarks during the annual Netroots Nation convention in Phoenix, Arizona, activist Patrisse Cullors described the urgency driving the protest. "Let me be clear—every single day people are dying, not able to take another breath," she said. "We are in a state of emergency. If you do not feel that emergency, then you are not human. I want to hear concrete action plans."

    How does it help racial dialog to state that anyone who does not agree with your position is not human?

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    1. We are not in a state of emergency. The left is whipped into a state of neurotic hysteria and desperately in search of black or female victims to base it in. The more they come up empty, the more hysterical they become.

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    2. "...every single day people are dying, not able to take another breath," she said."

      I think the definition of dying is being unable to take another breath.

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    3. It helps exactly the same way as saying someone who does not report on the amazing progress of black children on 8th grade NAEP math tests conceivably would become as suicidal as Sandra Bland if put on a bridge and given a choice to report or jump.

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    4. Ha ha ha ha, what a clever twist of words you did to use Somerby's own posts against him. I admire trolls so much!!!

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    5. Our guess? One of Somerby's few supporters still regularly defends him for doing exactly what he and she deplore.

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  10. Digby says:

    "The thing I cannot get out of my head is that this professional woman is dead after failing to signal a lane change [while black]. Who hasn't done that?"

    She disappears all of the subsequent actions of Bland, her refusing to put out her cigarette, refusing to get out of the car, refusing to stop using her cell phone, kicking the officer, being threatened with a taser, and having to be physically subdued to complete an arrest, all while being argumentative and combative. Digby seems to believe that it was the lane change that got her arrested, not the way she behaved when the officer tried to give her a ticket (or warning, as the officer states). Digby says it is changing lanes [while black] that caused this chain of events.

    I wonder what can be done to stop these outrages! Maybe we should just suspend all traffic rules for black people. Maybe we should instruct officers to let all black people go when stopped for an infraction, or better yet, when breaking any law whatsoever. Maybe black people should continue to say and do whatever they want when being arrested, because any attempt to change their behavior would be racist. When video shows black people doing something illegal, it should be disregarded, since even video is racist. Maybe black people should be taught that whenever an officer interferes with their lives it is an example of racism and should be fiercely resisted, up to and including physical violence. Traffic laws are stupid anyway and who needs them? Because black lives matter the most.

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    1. I once had a police officer giving me a ticket ask for a light.

      I think he wanted me to know that he knew WHAT I had been smoking. After he gave me the ticket he walked away chuckling.

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    2. If you truly believe that every time someone who doesn't signal gets a ticket, then your comments make some logical sense. However, you must know that some people will get pulled over about not signaling (or some other excuse) just so the police can "check them out". If this happened to you (again and again), you would be angry and non-cooperative. Luckily (since you are obviously white), the police would not arrest you, unless you physically attacked the officer (and not just "kicked" them while being handcuffed). The whole stop/harrass/arrest/jail scenario is a tragedy you will never have the pleasure to experience. And yet, you feel it necessary to complain about how "black people" get away with doing illegal things.

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  11. "We’ve seen Sean play these games of omission a million times. In truth, Our Own Tribe’s exalted leaders often seem to behave a great deal like Theirs."

    Sean who?

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