Brattleboro Reformer (Vt.), July 22:

If you haven’t seen the video yet of the traffic stop that resulted in the arrest of Sandra Bland, it’s easy to criticize her for not following the commands of the Texas State Trooper who stopped her for failing to use her turn signal on July 10.

After all, we have been told time and time again to obey authority and follow the orders of a police officer. How dare she not listen to the trooper and put her cigarette out and get out of the vehicle as he demanded? And if you are black in America, you have been told time and time again, just do whatever the officer tells you, otherwise you might end up hurt … or worse. It’s just a fact of life for black Americans.

But watch the video. Sandra Bland was pulled over after she switched lanes because the trooper came up behind her rather quickly. Bland told the officer her first thought was to get out of his way in case he was in a hurry to get somewhere else. It turns out the trooper may have profiled Bland, who was a black woman driving a car with out-of-state plates in a small town in Waller County.

He wrote up a ticket and was giving it to her when he asked her to put out her cigarette, which she refused to do. The traffic stop quickly escalated at this point until Bland was arrested and cited with assaulting a police officer. It would be easy, if you have not viewed the video, to conclude that Bland became obstinate and combative and her arrest was a result of her own behavior. But if you do look at the video, you will be stunned by the complete control she has over her emotions. You will also sympathize with her, because what right does the trooper have demanding that she snuff out her cigarette? And then demanding that she exit her vehicle because she will not comply with his demand? Bland was well within her rights to keep puffing away if she so desired and was also well within her rights to remain within her car until the officer informed her exactly for what legal reason he was asking her to get out. Instead, the trooper starts yelling at her and at one point even threatens to “light you up” with a stun gun, pointing it directly at her face, before pulling her out of the vehicle.

Very simply: This trooper was out of control and reacted very poorly to a woman who was exercising her Fourth Amendment right, guaranteeing “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures …”

Ian Millhiser, writing for Think Progress, notes that the Supreme Court would most likely conclude that the trooper did violate Bland’s rights. “Rodriguez v. United States held that police could not extend the length of a routine traffic stop, even for just a few minutes, absent a safety related concern or reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver may have committed an additional crime.”

We are not pleased when we get a whiff of cigarette smoke, but we’re not sure it constitutes a “safety related concern” or reasonable suspicion that someone is committing a crime. “Had the officer not decided to extend the length of the stop over the argument about the cigarette, it is likely that Bland would have been sent on her way very shortly after she declined to extinguish her cigarette,” wrote Millhiser.

Instead, Sandra Bland is dead, with the initial report indicating she killed herself with a trash bag after three days in a jail cell. The trooper is on administrative leave and again, America must confront the systemic racism that seethes inches below the surface of our everyday lives.

Most of us know plenty of law enforcement personnel who are respectful and would never treat another human being ”“ black or white ”“ the way this Texas state trooper treated Bland. He is a stain on the reputations of officers who work hard, put their lives on the line and are likely to put up with a ration of guff every time they pull someone over for a traffic infraction. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they just shrug and laugh it off, hand the person a ticket and walk away. We commend those 99 percent. Unfortunately for Bland, she had a confrontation with a member of the 1 percent, and now she is dead.