Photo Credit: Felix Koutchinski

Talking to Strangers Named Sandra Bland

Malcolm Gladwell’s New Book Questions How People Judge the Unfamiliar on the Way to an Unacceptable Miscarriage of Justice

Kyle Palmer
9 min readSep 24, 2019


In Talking With Strangers, and per his norm, Malcolm Gladwell analyzes a motley crew of events, their players, and the requisite psychological underpinnings which may interpret them. Wherein the final product may convince “better” as an audiobook, Gladwell seeks to explain how Sandra Bland’s arrest on July 10th, 2015, would lead to her suicide three days later. Gladwell is explicit about the intent behind his first book since 2013’s David and Goliath stating his desire to reconvene the conversation surrounding Sandra Bland’s death and similar or related incidents of the past few years.

And can you blame him?

Few would have predicted the string of events that led to Bland’s death as a standard police stop rarely escalates into an arrest, three days’ incarceration, and suicide of the suspect. Gladwell sets out to show his reader how police officers pursue and escalate minor traffic violations stemming from training and a predisposition to doubt the authenticity of the strangers they meet.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers

“The lesson of what happened on the afternoon of July 10th, 2015 is that when police talk to strangers, they need to be respectful and polite. Case closed, right? Wrong.

By this point, I think we can do better.” — Malcolm Gladwell

If you watch the video of Bland’s arrest, you will see the perspective of Brian Encinia. The Texas state patrolman responsible for Bland’s arrest observed a disheveled interior of a car with Illinois license plates. He then attempted to judge a stranger’s dismissive attitude toward her responsibility to the law. During interviews that followed the event, Encinia would recall uncertainty regarding his first interaction with Bland, finding her suspicious. Encinia would eventually blame Bland, now dead, for…



Kyle Palmer

Midwesterner, Meet World