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Friday, July 30, 2010

DWI: Driving While Immigrant

About six months after moving to Nashville we traded my trusty commuter Honda for a barely-used Avalon for my wife. We got a great deal; an African American female soldier who had been in Iraq over a year decided to sell the car rather than make payments for it to sit in the parking lot at Ft. Campbell.

One of the things we liked about it was that she had trimmed it out nicely with rims and a smoked license plate cover. Nothing we would ever spend money to do, but sharp looking, especially the rims. We noticed the first few weeks we had it that young guys, especially African American kids, would actually back-up when stopped in traffic to look at the car. They were shocked to find a middle aged, gray-haired white woman behind the wheel.

And one day, so was Metro...

Heading home from meeting me for lunch, my wife was pulled over in Hermitage. She was in a stretch of Lebanon Road known as the "Bonnas" where at the time there was some daytime drug activity. Note the shock on the police woman's face when my wife rolled down the drivers' window and inquired as to what was the problem.

After stumbling and stammering all over herself, the police woman said, "It's that smoked license plate cover: we ask you all not to have those." She let my wife go with a promise to remove it. She did, and when I got home I put it back on where it has been for four years without any similar incident. And why? Because the wheels were cheap, started losing fake chrome, and wouldn't balance anymore. We replaced them with stock Toyota wheels and now the car looks like a middle aged white couple drives it.

Which is why I want to talk to you about Arizona's immigration law and why Tennessee would be foolish to adopt it.

This terrible idea/exercise-in-racism gives law enforcement the duty to run the immigration status of people it encounters in enforcing other laws. It is predicated on the notion that there will always be just and probable cause for any encounter between law enforcement and citizens. While there are fabulous professional law enforcement officers in this nation, there is also a significant number of Bubbas With Badges. For them, our nation's ideas of probable cause in traffic stops is as porous as our borders.

Taking also into consideration that poor people are more likely to drive cars with missing tail lights and non-working turn signals, the Arizona (and possibly Tennessee) law gives Bubba open season on Hispanics.

The other unthinkable aspect of this law is the requirement that citizens carry identification on them at all times to prove their citizenship. If you're old enough to remember the old Soviet Block you should remember being aghast that it required it's citizens in Eastern Europe and Russia to "carry papers" authorizing them to move around the country. Since when did Conservatives want to copy Soviet ideas of freedom?

As long as probable cause is as loose and ill-defined as it is in our country laws like Arizona's are unconstitutional and discriminatory. If you don't believe me, put some cheap wheels on your car and drive through Hermitage.

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