Standing up to police checkpoints

January 16, 2009

RECENTLY, A student from Mount San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) in Pomona, Calif., Daniel, was driving when he ended up in a long line. While in line, he saw a sign that read "checkpoint ahead."

Worried because he did not have his license at the time, he tried to find a turnoff, but there was none. He reached the police officers, and they asked for his license. He told the police officer that he did not have it, and was asked to pull off to the side. His car was towed, impounded and he was fined $2,000. "I was scared for my mom," Daniel said, "I was just thinking of the hardship she would have to go through. $2,000 dollars is a lot of money."

When checkpoints are formed, this is a situation many families are forced into. At checkpoints, police check the ID of any driver passing by. The location often tends to be in areas of high Latino or immigrant concentration. This leaves immigrants in a peculiar situation, because they are not allowed to obtain a California driver's license. They are then vulnerable at the checkpoint. If they pass through, their car can be taken from them; the fines associated with being stopped can be more than some families can bear.

"The expenses are about $1,500, excluding the cost of a traffic ticket," according to Palm Springs Desert Sun reporter Rasha Aly. This is the minimum cost to any driver caught without a license in California, no exceptions. Because of the high cost, sometimes the driver cannot afford to get their car back.

The police are allowed to do this because the checkpoints are disguised as a sobriety checkpoint. But the police only ask for a driver's license. In other words, these checkpoints are a clear attack on immigrants.

There is money to be made from these checkpoints as well. According to Cristina Carrizosa, a Pomona city councilor, the city can gain millions from the cars being towed: There are fines on the driver for towing the car, impounding the car and picking it up. If the driver does not pick up their car, the car is sold. The city could get over $1 million from a checkpoint.

At 6:30 p.m. on the evening of December 5, 2008, Pomona police set up a "sobriety" checkpoint at the intersection of Holt and Endpoint. Around two hours later, students from Mt. SAC arrived, ready to protest the checkpoint. There, they met with students from Pitzer College and Cal Poly Pomona, plus a community group called Pomona Habla.

In response to these checkpoints, Laura from Students for Immigrant Rights Internationalist Current, a club from Mt. SAC, decided to organize the club to protest. She sent out a text to a network of people with the location of a checkpoint and made sure everyone was aware of the situation. Then she began calling people to see who would be available to protest the checkpoint.

Word spread of a protest, and when there was a sufficient number of people ready, they headed to the location of the checkpoint. They brought signs that would warn drivers passing through that there was a checkpoint ahead.

Since the checkpoint stopped people from two directions, for the students to be able to warn as many people as possible, there had to be protesters on both sides. Students organized around two streets, and protesters warned people. Their locations was far enough away from the checkpoint that unlicensed drivers had a chance to turn away without getting pulled over.

Once the protesters arrived, there were immediate signs of success. Many cars were turning away from the checkpoint. Some drivers honked in support, or rolled down their window to thank the protesters. One lady even pulled over to join in on the protest. Even though the people passing through Pomona were appreciative, the same can't be said about the police.

Chanel Ortiz, a student protester, was able to drive a lady and her children past the checkpoint. The lady did not have her license at the time. She had stopped near the protesters to find out what was going on. Chanel notified her of the checkpoint and how the police were checking licenses. She was able to get past the checkpoint safely with her children because Chanel drove her through.

The police responded to these protesters with hostility, trying to find any excuse to suppress the protest or arrest them. One student was stopped and questioned after being told that he was "disturbing" the neighborhood with his loudspeaker.

Other students came to back him up and began questioning the officer on what the laws are regarding noise. The officer was unable to answer the questions and repeated his statement telling the students to "back away." A lawyer from Pomona Habla came and questioned the growing gathering of police on the scene and eventually, the police backed down and let the student go.

Later on that night, Laura received word that many of the protesters on one street had left. So she and another student decided to go to that street. The two of them were offered a ride by council member Cristina Carrizosa and her daughter.

When police saw two of the protesters enter the car, they pulled the car over. One officer stated that the reason they were pulled over was because they were "obstructing traffic." The police approached with hostility and aggressively attempted to get the driver to incriminate herself. Miriam, a student from Mt. SAC who was also in the car stated, "They hassled the councilwoman. Police were telling her she was obstructing traffic and trying to push her to incriminate herself."

Since many of the cars were turning away from the checkpoint, the success of the protesters was obvious. The police even decided to extend the checkpoint farther into the night, hoping to impound more cars or to outlast the protesters. But protesters were diligent and ready to stay the night if they had to. They stayed until around 1 a.m. and made sure that no cars were being stopped. Laura stated that, "The cops got around 79 cars before we showed up, and afterward almost no other cars were towed."

The protesters showed what a small group of militant people can accomplish. Even though their numbers didn't reach beyond a couple dozen, they were able to greatly hinder the success of the checkpoint.
Jared Moreno, from the Internet

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