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Drinking While Brown (or Gay) in Texas Will Get You Arrested

The nation's broadest public intoxication law gives TX cops virtually free rein to arrest anyone for drunkenness -- even if they're quietly nursing a beer in a bar.

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According to a recent report by sociology and law professors at the University of California-Berkeley, the Dallas suburb of Irving has used "discretionary" public intoxication arrests to fish for undocumented immigrants. After partnering with federal immigration officials in 2006 to check local prisoners' residency status, Irving police increased the number of Latinos they nicked for PI and other Class C misdemeanors by 150 percent, while arrests of whites and African Americans for those offenses fell. The Mexican consul issued an advisory telling migrants to avoid Irving. "In this city, one has to be extra careful," he t old a Spanish-language newspaper. "They were clearly choosing to bring more Hispanics into jail," says Aarti Kohli, coauthor of the Berkeley study. But the feds and local officials hailed the PI sweeps as a victory. Immigration "is expanding this program, saying, 'Isn't this great?'" Kohli says. "But the question they're not asking is: How are these people getting put into jail?"

After community activists took to the streets and airwaves, Irving's arrest rate for Hispanics plummeted. (Dallas and Irving are no longer part of the federal program.) In Fort Worth, protests over the Rainbow Lounge raid elicited a quick apology from the police chief and promises to review the PI policy. But the arrests have continued elsewhere, and no one is targeting the public intoxication law itself. Many people don't care, Novello says, "because they can't vicariously experience this injustice." The Houston attorney puts it more bluntly. "As long as police are going out there fucking with the blacks and the Mexicans, until it hits the people with the power, they won't care."

Adam Weinstein is Mother Jones' copy editor. He previously worked at the Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice and the Tallahassee Democrat. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times and on Newsweek.com.

 
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