Published December 2015
It was a "Texas Dashcam Vid": Corrupt Cops and Black Heroines
"The [Sandra Bland] video is a one-shot masterpiece of found cinema." (Ty Burr, Boston Globe)
And moral dilemmas abound: What, really, was Sandra Bland being pulled over for? Driving While Under the Influence of Being a Strong Black Woman, or Failing to Signal to a Caucasian Cop Who Was Entrapping Her By Making Her Think He Was Trying to Pass, When In Reality He Needed to Fulfill His Weekly Quota of "Tickets For Petty Shit"? And what about that cigarette? Should Sandra be allowed to smoke in her car? What if poor ego-bruised Brian Encinia got lung cancer from the second-hand smoke exhaled vaguely in his direction during what could have been a brief interaction that he intentionally prolonged because his macho maleness was under threat by someone cooler and sharper, who also happened to have ovaries and a deep skin tone? Would he be able to sue the Bland family for cancer treatment money? Is the cigarette the real culprit here? Should Encinia have arrested the tobacco company instead?
When Brian Encinia invents and then escalates a conflict over Sandra's smoking stick, that's when the real action heats up. Until this point, the video relies on banter mixed with generic officer-offender conversation to propel the plot. But when Officer Encinia intones in a manner calculated to stoke tensions that Sandra seems irritated, and she bluntly responds that yes, she is irritated, because she was simply trying let him pass, he becomes annoyed (as though, "The nerve of this colored bitch to not cower in my Anglo-authoritarian presence. Doesn't she know this is WALLER COUNTY, where we have separate burial places for negroes, defiant or otherwise?").
And so his white privilege already punctured, Encinia, phallic weapon ensconced in hip-hugging holster but ever at the ready, decides to take things a step further. After all, Sandra not only dared to be woman, she dared to be a black woman - and then she dared to smoke while being a black woman! That's at least three felonies right there.
So Encinia asks Sandra to put out her cigarette - but fails to give her a legitimate reason. Sandra asserts herself in casual retort, "Why do I have to put out my cigarette in MY car?" and that's when our antagonist begins to inhabit a truly villainous role.
Encinia drawls a demand for her to step out of her car. She refuses, on the grounds that she has done nothing wrong. She tries to start recording the incident on her phone. Encinia's ire at this woman who will simply not comply with an unreasonable, illegal order reaches its peak, and he threatens to "light" her up with a taser. At this point, the audience is riveted - and repulsed. Finally, after Encinia asserts his manly manhood and manhandles Sandra, she emerges from the car, proclaiming via colorfully sardonic and profane language her indignation at the situation which has spun bizarrely out of control, through no fault of her own.
Then, in a nod to experimental cinema, the action moves off camera. The video only affords us an auditory experience at this point. But we can vividly envision the action as Sandra becomes our narrator, and gives a play-by-play, in incredulous and outraged tone, of exactly what is happening to her at the hands of Officer Encinia - her violent handcuffing, her head being slammed into the ground, the corrupt cop's knee in her back.
Our precious protagonist maintains her dignity throughout the ordeal. She asserts the vile wrongness of the situation but retains a sassy sense of humor. She emerges a victor over this terrorist in uniform, this meager man whose bluster and bravado are all too pervasively witnessed in the flourishing genre of found cinema - these tragic cell phone and dashboard video dramas pitting cop against citizen, fascist force against hapless human.
"Texas Dashcam Vid" can be seen at a laptop theatre near you.