Walking While Brown: Racial Profiling in Arizona
The following is part of an essay by Not In Our Town activist Hugh Vasquez of Walnut Creek, CA, addressing the human impact of Arizona's controversial new legislation aimed at undocumented immigrants. Vasquez, a partner with the Center for Diversity Leadership and a Senior Associate at the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, writes that his concern is not with the intentions of those who wrote the law, but its impact on the state's Latino residents and the inevitable racial profiling that will result.
Have you, or anyone you know, been the victim of racial or ethnic profiling? Do you agree with Vasquez that this is one of the dangers inherent in Arizona's new legislation? Please consider his words, and add your comments below.
Arizona, the police can stop me without cause, demand my identification and conduct an
immigration status check on me. If I am standing on the street waiting for a ride from a
friend, and that friend drives up, rolls the passenger window down to say hello, and I lean over
and nod my head to say hi, a police officer witnessing this can stop me if he/she believes
that my nod was a gesture indicating I was soliciting employment.
the United States,” I can be stopped in order to determine my citizenship status. If I am driving and have passengers that look like they could be illegal immigrants and I break a traffic law (like stopping on the crosswalk line instead of behind it, making too wide of a left turn, going too slow, driving over the speed limit by one or two miles per hour, not using my turn signal at the proper distance from the turn), a police officer can use that traffic violation as a reason to stop me to see if I am transporting illegal immigrants.
capture illegal immigrants? Who fits the profile of a potential illegal immigrant? Who
will they be trained to spot and stop? Someone with brown skin and dark hair.
profiling of brown people and the eroding of our civil and constitutional rights. The
intent of this law is to “discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens
and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States” (Arizona State
Senate Bill 1070). Although the targets of this law are illegal immigrants, in reality the
true targets will be people with brown skin, dark hair, and dark eyes, regardless of their
citizenship status in the United States.
racist as well. Debates on the theme “is it racist or not” are spreading like wildfire all
over the nation. Debating racist intent is a waste of time and puts the focus in the wrong
does not really matter if the authors and supporters of this law are racist; it doesn’t matter
if their intent was racist or not. Focusing attention there is a distraction to the issue and a
no-win strategy. There is no way anyone can prove that these lawmakers are racist;
engaging in that debate only polarizes communities and distracts us from the real issues
of concern and limits our strategies to intervene successfully.
impact it will have. Our focus and our attention should be on that impact. Our debates,
analysis, and decisions as to whether or not to support such a law should be based on
impact. When focusing here, there is no doubt in my mind that the impact of this law
will be racial profiling of brown people and the violation of civil and constitutional
Governor Brewer said that police would be trained to not profile. However, the law says
that when “a reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully
present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made to determine the
immigration status of the person.”
that “driving while black” is real, meaning all a black man has to do to get pulled over by
the police is drive. Now, at least in Arizona, we will have not only driving while brown
but also standing while brown, nodding while brown, and walking while brown.
violates our rights.
• Educate yourself on the facts of the so-called “illegal immigrant” problem and be
prepared to challenge what others say about the negative impact of illegal immigrants
on this country. Is it true that illegal immigrants are causing massive problems in the
U.S.? What benefits do we derive from illegal immigrants? What would happen to
our businesses, services, etc. if all illegal immigrants boycotted work for one week?
• Talk to as many people as you can about the IMPACT of this law rather than the
• Call for allies to speak up and take action. Ask allies to talk about the IMPACT
rather than labeling the law or the lawmakers as racist.
• Use your ingenuity and imagination to come up with innovative ideas on how to turn
this law around. The use of Facebook to spread the word and creative boycotts of
business in Arizona are a couple of examples.
• Work to pressure the government to repeal this law, but short of that, petition the
State of Arizona to amend the law as follows:
1.Mandate a citizen’s watch and evaluation team to observe police actions and
report on whom they stopped under this law and why they profiled someone as
2.Mandate that law enforcement gather and produce data on their stops to show that
they had probable cause.
3.Eliminate all “enforcement without cause” sections of the law.
4.Mandate police inform people of their right to refuse a search and conduct a
media campaign targeted to the Latino community to inform them of their rights.
before my eyes without taking action in some way. The spirits of my Mexican
grandparents and of the many allies who are no longer here gave me strength to speak
out. I am taking action not only for my sake but also for the sake of many others, and I
hope you will do so as well.