Refusing to Remain Silent on Racial Profiling

September 21, 2015 /

Photo: Claudia Gonzalez

Editor’s Note: Trina Ruiz, above, was one of dozens of Merced County residents who traveled to Sacramento for the #RiseUpAB953 Righteous Rally on September 2nd. The event, organized by People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO California) and the Merced Organizing Project’s Live Free campaign, brought people from all over the state to the Capitol to advocate for Assembly Bill 953. Introduced by Assemb. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), AB 953  would modernize California’s definition of racial profiling, create a database for collecting and reporting information on police-community interactions, enhance training on fair policing, and establish an advisory board that develops solutions to curb profiling.

Law enforcement agencies in California currently do not collect or make public basic information about who police stop, search, or even shoot. AB 953 would ensure that this information is reported. Below, Ruiz shares why she supports this bill.

As told to Claudia Gonzalez

Recently, I was pulled over by police. I know it was because of what I look like and what I was driving, not because I committed an infraction.

I was driving down Highway 152 on my way home from Merced to Los Banos.  It was very late at night when suddenly I heard the sirens. Two highway patrol officers pulled me over. As soon as I told the highway patrol officers my name, they looked at me suspiciously. They immediately assumed I was up to something.

I told them I was in a hurry to get home because it was very late, but they did not believe me. They asked me if I had any drugs or weapons on me. The officers then insisted I was under the influence and made me take not one but two breathalyzer tests. I kept insisting I was exhausted and really needed to use the restroom. One of the officers said if I really had to use the restroom, I could squat in the fields.

Angered by the callous insensitivity and prejudice in his statement, I asked them if I was under arrest or if I was going to get a ticket. They just ignored me. After what seemed like forever, and after exhausting any way to charge me with something, they finally let me go.

I remember thinking that if I were a white woman, the officers would not be treating me this way. They would not find my nice car suspicious nor would they be trying to find something to charge me with. But the sad reality is that racial profiling not only affects men, it also affect women, mothers and children of color as well.   

I decided to attend the #RiseUpAB953 rally with the Merced Organizing Project because of my experiences like this with law enforcement. I kept thinking of this very powerful quote by Desmond Tutu: ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

If we remain silent and don’t act to protect our communities, then we are supporting oppression with our silence. It is up to us, community members, to do the work, to fight against the injustices, and pass laws.

One of the most memorable moments from the rally was when activist Theresa Smith, who had traveled all the way from Anaheim, spoke about losing her child. Her son Caesar Cruz was killed by Anaheim Police in 2011. She carried his ashes with her and in a symbolic move, placed them on the steps of the Capitol.

I could not contain myself and got emotional. I cried because a mother should never have to outlive her children. No one should endure this type of pain.

As a mother to a Latina daughter, I cannot let her live in a world where people get killed because of the color of her skin. I do not want her to live in fear knowing that a police officer can take her life for no reason at all.

If AB 953 passes, it could prevent more parents from having to know the pain Theresa carries. Cops would be held accountable for their actions, and the law would curb racial profiling and patterns of behavior that make police seem like they are above the law.

Attending this rally had such a huge impact on me. I am forever changed and proud to be a part of such a historic event. Actions like this one prove that together we can enact change. Black and Brown folks are becoming more united and conscientious. This makes me feel optimistic about our future and the world my daughter will live in.

Do you or someone you know have a story of racial profiling or excessive use of police force? Your elected officials need to know! Share it here.

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