Racial Profiling Rears Its Ugly Head
It was one of those cruise-the-bucket nights out here in the Bay, and me and my homie Tase were getting our roll on. We drove through Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco.
I'm Latino and I drive a bucket -- an old car that runs fine but looks bad. I read in the paper the other day that racial profiling in San Francisco is being called a "significant problem" by the American Civil Liberties Union. No kidding.
It was about 12 a.m. and nothing to eat but a burrito on 24th and Mission. We got the grub and started up the hill to Tase's house. On the way I noticed that we had a tail: the police.
I admit I was still paranoid even though we were all legit. I asked Tase what the date was and he told me it was the 30th. This is the time when police are trying to make the most arrests. When they play snatch and stack their scratch.
Their main goal is petty stuff. You know, like speeding, littering, J-walking -- misdemeanor crimes, tickets and such.
I looked at Tase and he looked at me and we both started laughing. We knew we were about to get played like Playstation 2.
After following us for about a mile the bright lights and loudspeaker came on and the officer yells, "Pull over now!" I felt like hitting the gas and smashing on them because we were listening to a song by 3xCrazy. But I didn't. I made sure I pulled over.
We were in the Haight, a neighborhood known for head shops, funky clothes and '60s memorabilia. Right after I turned off the engine the cop asked me to get out of the car. Right when I did he slapped those vicious cuffs on me. I asked him what the problem was, and he told me to shut up. I did. Tase asked why were they putting cuffs on us and if we were under arrest. They replied that we were being detained and told him to shut up, too.
Me and Tase are sitting in the hard back seat of the cop car, baffled and angry.
"Don't say nothing but your name and we'll be out of here, because everything else is used against you," I said to Tase. "They're probably checking if we got warrants or if the car is stolen. We're gonna get out of here in like 15 minutes."
"But we ain't done nothing," Tase replied. Just as he finished his sentence, about five other police cars including a narc car rolled up all crazy.
Two cops hopped out of their car and got right into mine! While me and Tase looked on, shocked, they started the engine and smobbed off and even added a little SKERRRRRRT! I had just been car-jacked by the police.
I was thinking, this is about "The Quota."
After the whole incident I spoke to a family friend who is a police officer and asked him a couple of questions. I wanted to know from a real cop what the deal was. I'll call him Officer James because he didn't want his name used.
So how do quotas work?
"Quotas are numbers that represent the amount of arrests at a precinct," Officer James said. "It isn't considered a goal -- it's a number that we have to reach or we're not doing our job."
Do San Francisco cops target Blacks and Latinos?
"No, because we're not supposed to say 'yeah.' Really, most of my fellow officers think that most gang members are Latinos and most drug dealers are black due to statistics."
Do police target buckets?
"Yeah, because they're old they usually don't have any insurance and people buy them when they are stolen for real cheap. Plus, those are the kinds of cars drug dealers, kidnappers and killers use the most. They're the easiest cars to just leave or run into the ocean after a crime. They usually don't have license plates and look rundown and rusty. So we pull them over and nine out of 10 times they aren't legit."
The police use this system to make more arrests. The more arrests, the more court fines and the more prisoners, and the system has a constant cash flow. Quotas keep things rollin' and organized.
I was released that night at about 1:30 a.m. and found Tase in the dressing room. They didn't give us back our coats or our shoes. I had to wear the county shoes, and without a jacket it was cold outside.
Someone had been driving around breaking into cars, and they said they thought it was us. They took my car to the city tow. It was going to cost more money to get the car out than what I paid for it. This incident was real greezy, and really got me not trusting the police at all.
I went to court. No charges. When I went to get my belongings back they told me they had no record of the stuff being confiscated!
The way I look at it is, don't go out late at night at the beginning or end of the month if you like the things that I lost -- shoes, a jacket and some dignity.
Riggs, as he prefers to be known, is 20 and is an associate with the Beat Within, a PNS weekly writing workshop and publication for incarcerated youth in Northern California.