Driving While Mexican

16.11.2011 /

“I got pulled over for no reason,” I said to my father after a night of sightseeing. He shook his head, let out a deep sigh, and knew I was not making anything up.

My 30 year-old cousin, who had come from Petaluma, was visiting Long Beach for the first time in his life. Like many people, he based his views of Long Beach on rap lyrics, Gangland episodes and The Fast and the Furious (yes, that was shot in Long Beach). I worked hard to disprove his notions of my city as the home of gang violence and police brutality it is portrayed as.

We went to Signal Hill, Belmont Shore, Pine Avenue and, of course, the beach. So after showing him and his fiancé that Long Beach is actually quite nice, we headed back to my house. I had a full car—my little brother and sister, my cousin and his fiancé, and me—so it didn’t strike me as odd when a police officer slowed down to check out my car when he turned into the lane opposite us. My cousin and I noticed that he was looking at us strangely, but we didn’t let it interrupt our conversation. As the light turned green, I noticed the police cruiser make a U-turn and cut off the long row of cars behind me. I kept driving and made sure to obey the traffic laws. After a half mile on my tail, the flash of red and blue lights in my rear view mirror momentarily blinded me.

“What’s the problem officer?” I asked with an unsure tone. “Where are you guys coming from? Where are you headed? Can I see your license and car registration?” he interrogated, cutting off each of my attempts to respond. He then told me to roll down the back window. “Have you ever been involved with the police?” he asked both me and my cousin. After we both replied that we have not, he asked for all of our ages and when he saw the scared look of my little brother, he asked me to step out of the vehicle. I was patted down and had the contents of my pockets removed. The whole time, I was wondering what I had done to get pulled over. The police officer did not seem interested in what I had to say, nor did he take the time to answer my attempts at finding out why I got pulled over. I stood with my hands on the hood of the car for what seemed like an eternity while he checked and re-checked my information.

When he returned my documents, I asked one last time, “What was the reason for pulling me over?” He replied with an unsatisfying, “You can go.”

“What did he say?” asked my cousin. I didn’t have much of a response for him because I was unsure of what I did. “Did he write you a ticket or anything?” asked my sister. “He just searched me and said I could go after looking up my info,” I said.

Why would a Caucasian LBPD officer pull over a car with five Hispanics? When I say that I got pulled over for no reason, I am being polite and rejecting the idea of racism. People have long complained about racist police officers and, not to far away, Lakewood experienced a racism scandal just a few years ago. Why would Long Beach, one of the most diverse cities in the entire world, still be plagued with racial profiling? How could those who are in charge of upholding the law have an agenda that is so bigoted? I am a Mexican American, 22 year-old male. I have never been in legal trouble, I advocate numerous public issues, and work on building my name as a writer in Long Beach. If there was a skin color that reflected all of this, I am sure the police officer would not have even given my car a second glance.

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