Summer in North Carolina has come to mean sobriety and safety checkpoints — on land and on water. This year, a group of state law enforcement agencies and anti-drunk driving activists have teamed up to sponsor “On the Road, On the Water, Don’t Drink and Drive.” The campaign involves checkpoints and more patrols in heavy traffic areas as well as areas with historically high numbers of DUI violations.
Checkpoints in particular have become a topic of debate because of the apparently disproportionate number of minorities who are pulled over. The Western North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union, though, suggests that the motivation behind the focus on minorities is not so much racial as it is financial.
According to the ACLU, racial profiling occurs when law enforcement assumes that a person of color is more likely to be doing something illegal. In the western counties of North Carolina, there is a growing concern that Latinos in particular are being unjustly targeted by police.
With checkpoints, though, it’s a different issue. Checkpoints are generally set up in what the ACLU refers to as “economically challenged” neighborhoods. Most of those neighborhoods have a large population of Latinos — and many of those Latinos are undocumented.
The result is an “old woman who swallowed a fly” chain of events. If you’re undocumented, you don’t have a driver’s license. If you don’t have a driver’s license when you’re pulled over at a checkpoint, you get a ticket that will cost about $185.
People in your neighborhood can’t afford a ticket for $1.85, much less $185, and, because the checkpoint is set up right outside your door, you can get pulled over and ticketed more than once in any given week. You won’t challenge the ticket, because you don’t want to identify yourself to the court as undocumented.
Racial profiling actually does play a role here, says the ACLU. Law enforcement is assuming that Latinos are undocumented.
And, critics say, the state police can bring in more money by ticketing the same undocumented driver twice in one week than they can by stopping wealthier drivers for seat belt violations.
Police maintain that they are not targeting specific ethnic neighborhoods but, rather, are targeting high-crime neighborhoods.
As one official put it, “That’s a real tough distinction to make.”
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times, “Activists: Racial profiling used in Asheville-area police checkpoints,” Sandra V. Rodriguez, 05/22/2011