May 4, 2007

Editorial:

Police continue to use excessive force against Hispanics

This week the U.S. Department of Justice released a report that Hispanics and blacks were more likely to be searched and arrested by the police. The study covered police contacts with the public during 2005 and was based on interviews with 64,000 people ages 16 and older.

While this report was just released, this news is not exactly new information. A similar study was done by USC’s Howard P. Greenwald, Ph.D., Professor of Management and Policy, School of Policy, Planning, and Development, in 2003 in which the researcher came to the same conclusion. The difference between the two was that the USC study was based on a much smaller sampling size but the results were the same. But even then, this information was not news to members of these minority communities. We are living the reality of these police stops. These studies and others confirm what we already knew.

This editor can share a story where I had a first hand experience with excessive use of police authority.

I drive an old Ford pick-up truck. It is not much to look at but it is clean, it runs, and it does not pollute. My license plate registration had expired. Normally, I would receive the renewal notice in the mail, but we had moved and the notice had gone to the old address, evidently, after the postal forwarding notice had expired. This information I found out after the fact. Nonetheless, I had not received the notice and as such I did not think about renewing my car registration.

In Chula Vista, I was pulled over and told that my registration had expired. I figured I would be warned and required to show proof of registration within a certain time frame. But to my surprise, after a long stop, a further inspection of my vehicle, the arrival of two more police cars, I was informed that my truck was going to be towed. I was dumfounded. I was told that it was illegal to drive an unregistered auto in California and so he had to tow it off the street.

I know that the police have latitude in these situations and that he could have just as easily given me a citation. Instead, he assumed the worst and chose to impose the most punitive action available to him. If I had outstanding tickets for this infraction; if I had been abusive or unruly; I might have understood his actions. But because I am over 50, this was my first stop for this type infraction, am clean cut and on my best behavior (in a report, the officer noted that I was well mannered during the stop), it didn’t make sense.

The conclusion that I drew was that because I was Hispanic, my truck was towed, which ended up costing me several hundred extra dollars above and beyond paying the registration and late payment fee, plus, the fact I had to spend a day taking care of this matter. If I hadn’t taken care of the matter right away, the towing and storage fee alone would have been in excess of $300.

Excessive police force on Hispanics and blacks is not news. It is something that we have to live with, unfortunately. I filed a letter with the Chula Vista Police Department, and in their response to this letter, the supervising officer supported the officer’s action. The officer had a choice. He just preferred to inflict the harshest choice available to him. For minorities, this is our reality.

To drive this point home even further, after this report was released on May 1, the Los Angeles Police Department fired over 200 rubber bullets into a crowd of peaceful marchers as they protested for immigrant rights and clubbing news reporters as they did their job. Once again excessive, force against Hispanics.

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