Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas, just days after a white police officer pulled over and arrested her when she failed to signal a lane change. Her arrest has been cited as a prime example of racial bias and misuse of force by the police — and it happened in a county itself marred by a long history of racial tension.

Waller County was once known as “Six Shooter Junction” because the area was a hotbed for white supremacist activity in the 1800s. According to historical documents obtained by the Associated Press, race riots in the 1880s led to the founding of a White Man’s Party designed specifically to restrict black voting.

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“This is the most racist county in the state of Texas which is probably one of the most racist states in the country,” said former Waller County judge DeWayne Charleston in an interview with The Guardian. In 2007, Charleston ordered a black funeral home to bury a white woman which was seen as unfair because in Waller County it is somehow still cool for white people to refuse to be buried next to black people.

“You’ve got racism from the cradle to the grave,” he continued.

The AP reports on the continuing tension:

More recently, voter intimidation and voting-rights complaints have arisen from students at Prairie View A&M University, a college established in 1876 specifically to train black teachers.

The complaints led to a federal lawsuit. The district attorney at the time, in 2004, reached a settlement and apologized. But the issue resurfaced only two years later and again in 2008, when additional early voting sites in the county were established only after federal pressure.

According to Mother Jones, traffic stops also disproportionately target black drivers. Of the 12,300 stops that took place in 2014, over 29 percent involved black drivers even though black people only make up 25 percent of the county. White drivers were involved in 44 percent of the stops even though the county is 70 percent white.

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“[The county] does and did have a lot of things that went on here that we’re not particularly proud of, as far as racial interaction,” said District Attorney Elton Mathis in an interview. “[But] people need to realize there is a new generation in control of government here... a more progressive generation.”


Contact the author at joanna@jezebel.com.

Image via AP.