Why I am still concerned

I listened with much relief as three of the four parts of Arizona SB1070 were struck down. I was pleasantly surprised at the Supreme Court’s rulings, even if the logic left me scratching my head at times. But I am still concerned about the “show me your papers” section of the law that was not struck down.

Some would say, “Well, if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to be concerned about.” That is not necessarily so, and I can tell you this from personal experience. A little about my driving habits before I launch in. I used to drive at about five miles over the limit on a regular basis. But then, I just decided a few years ago to do the limit. And I almost always use the cruise control when conditions warrant. I have never gotten a ticket in my nearly 30 years of driving, though I am not saying there weren’t times… But especially when I am traveling long distances, I behave myself.

This is important, because there have been two times when I have been pulled over for no reason. One time, Richie (my then 17 year old) and I were coming back from Chicago, where we went to see the University of Chicago, where he now attends. We were traveling down US 54 in the Oklahoma panhandle early one morning. We passed through a town and had just gotten back up to highway speed when an Oklahoma State Trooper pulled me over. After the usual license and registration thing, he explained that I was not speeding, but had simply accelerated a little quickly. I was let off with a verbal warning.

The other time this happened is when I was driving Richie to school. We were in the middle of Missouri on I-70, and passed a Missouri State Trooper in the median. Again, I was at or below the speed limit. He followed me for about five or six miles, then pulled me over. He explained that I was “swerving” some. Hmmm. Of course, I was let off with a verbal warning.

In both instances, I know that the stated reasons for why I was pulled over were pretexts. Maybe it was my California plates. Maybe it was my “Frito Bandito” moustache, maybe Richie’s long hair. But I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was not really my driving. The egg would not have been broken on the accelerator in Oklahoma, and you could have put a laser on my path in Missouri. Neither officer really sought to defend their actions upon questioning them.

But I was pulled over. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. Over the course of the next few years, I will be curious if those “anyones” have a darker skin tone, or a “funny” accent. I do not unduly question the integrity of most police officers. But the reason that the 4th amendment is in place is to make sure there is a check on law enforcement, that there is a limit to the power they can exercise. SB1070 puts police officers in a tough spot, including demonstrating that “show me your papers” is not racially or ethnically motivated. This is why I am still concerned.

Rev. Richard Barnes is an American Baptist endorsed chaplain, ministering on behalf of Church World Service in the Immigration and Refugee Program. As such, he is the Religious Services Program Coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s El Centro, California Service Processing Center (Detention Facility). Previously, he served for ten years as a missionary with American Baptist International Ministries in Mexicali, Mexico. 


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