Talking to Strangers - Malcolm Gladwell


“Step out of the car!”


In July 2015, a young African American woman named Sandra Bland drove from her hometown of Chicago to a little town an hour west of Houston, Texas. She was interviewing for a job at Prairie View A&M University, the school she’d graduated from a few years before. She was tall and striking, with a personality to match. She belonged to the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority in college, and played in the marching band. She volunteered with a seniors group. She regularly posted short, inspirational videos on YouTube, under the handle “Sandy Speaks,” that often began, “Good morning, my beautiful Kings and Queens.”

I am up today just praising God, thanking His name. Definitely thanking Him not just because it’s my birthday, but thanking Him for growth, thanking Him for the different things that He has done in my life over this past year. Just looking back at the twenty-eight years I have been on this earth, and all that He has shown me. Even though I have made some mistakes, I have definitely messed up, He still loves me, and I want to let my Kings and Queens know out there to that He still loves you too.

Bland got the job at Prairie View. She was elated. Her plan was to get a master’s degree in political science on the side. On the afternoon of July 10 she left the university to get groceries, and as she made a right turn onto the highway that rings the Prairie View campus, she was pulled over by a police officer. His name was Brian Encinia: white, short dark hair, thirty years old. He was courteous—at least at first. He told her that she had failed to signal a lane change. He asked her questions. She answered them. Then Bland lit a cigarette, and Encinia asked her to put it out.

Their subsequent interaction was recorded by the video camera on his dashboard, and has been viewed in one form or another several million times on YouTube.

Bland: I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?

Encinia: Well, you can step on out now.

Bland: I don’t have to step out of my car.

Encinia: Step out of the car.

Bland: Why am I…

Encinia: Step out of the car!

Bland: No, you don’t have the right. No, you don’t have the right.

Encinia: Step out of the car.

Bland: You do not have the right. You do not have the right to do this.

Encinia: I do have the right, now step out or I will remove you.

Bland: I refuse to talk to you other than to identify myself. [crosstalk] I am getting removed for a failure to signal?

Encinia: Step out or I will remove you. I’m giving you a lawful order. Get out of the car now or I’m going to remove you.

Bland: And I’m calling my lawyer.

Bland and Encinia continue on for an uncomfortably long time. Emotions escalate.

Encinia: I’m going to yank you out of here. [Reaches inside the car.]

Bland: OK, you’re going to yank me out of my car? OK, all right.

Encinia: [calling in backup] 2547.

Bland: Let’s do this.

Encinia: Yeah, we’re going to. [Grabs for Bland.]

Bland: Don’t touch me!

Encinia: Get out of the car!

Bland: Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me! I’m not under arrest—you don’t have the right to take me out of the car.

Encinia: You are under arrest!

Bland: I’m under arrest? For what? For what? For what?

Encinia: [To dispatch] 2547 County FM 1098. [inaudible] Send me another unit. [To Bland] Get out of the car! Get out of the car now!

Bland: Why am I being apprehended? You’re trying to give me a ticket for failure…

Encinia: I said get out of the car!

Bland: Why am I being apprehended? You just opened my—

Encinia: I’m giving you a lawful order. I’m going to drag you out of here.

Bland: So you’re threatening to drag me out of my own car?

Encinia: Get out of the car!

Bland: And then you’re going to [crosstalk] me?

Encinia: I will light you up! Get out! Now! [Draws stun gun and points it at Bland.]

Bland: Wow. Wow. [Bland exits car.]

Encinia: Get out. Now. Get out of the car!

Bland: For a failure to signal? You’re doing all of this for a failure to signal?

Bland was arrested and jailed. Three days later, she committed suicide in her cell.


The Sandra Bland case came in the middle of a strange interlude in American public life. The interlude began in the late summer of 2014, when an eighteen-year-old black man named Michael Brown was shot to death by