Profiling the car: An Arizona case

During the course of our conversation, my friend Harold described how on a recent trip to a nearby city south of Phoenix he was pulled over  by a sheriff’s deputy.  When done, Harold asked me, “Do you think that was profiling?”

This incident occurred long before Arizona passed the horribly misguided Senate Bill 1070, that illegal immigration law that has drawn criticism as excessive, racist, mean and unconstitutional.  It will go into effect later this summer. 

One of the obvious problems is that the law legalizes the long-standing practice of racial profiling by police in Arizona.  But back to Harold.

First of all, Harold is a U.S. citizen of Japanese heritage, his skin darker than the average white man’s.   Now in his 60s, he was born in Honolulu (no, birthers, I have not seen his birth certificate) and came to the mainland to work here in Phoenix.  He is married and receives pensions from both Motorola and the National Guard.

Our connection is baseball.  He is an avid high school umpire and a sports trivia nut.  About 10 years ago, Harold inspired me to join the local umpire association.  He quickly became my mentor and friend.  We were partners for a few of the eight years I stayed in umpiring.

If Harold has a fault it is penury.  He is several steps beyond thrifty.  He buys second-hand clothes.  Most of his umpire gear is hand-me-downs.  He used to steam off uncancelled postage stamps from envelopes and reuse them.  One of his favorite sayings is, “I beat the system.”

Harold’s tight fist extends to all areas of his life, including his automobile. He will not buy a new one.  I do not recall the model but his is an older sedan.  The last time I saw it several years ago, the cream-colored paint was badly fading.   Thus the problem with law enforcement.

Harold said he was motoring home from the bedroom city that is Maricopa when he noticed a sheriff’s patrol car following him.  The patrol car eventually flashed him to a stop and an officer approached, eyeing the sedan.  Of course he asked to see Harold’s papers:  proof of insurance, driver’s license and auto registration.  Harold was mystified.  He was traveling within the posted speed limit.

The officer’s only explanation was that he found a crack in the windshield glass, near the top.  He asked how long that crack had been there.  Harold replied a long time.  Harold asked how the patrolman could have seen the crack from behind him. 

“We’re trained to see those things,” the officer said, according to Harold. Soon, the officer left, leaving no citation but a still-mystified Harold. 

I took Harold’s story into consideration, believing he would not lie to me.  To it I added the context of the patrolman’s controversial boss, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, aka The Toughest Sheriff in America.  Arpaio, many feel, did not need a law to profile for illegals, and he has been under federal investigation for a while.  Rather than fight crime, Arpaio’s deputies spend a large amount of time in the immigration arena.

“Yes,” I told Harold.  “I definitely think you were a victim of profiling.”

There was another incident, Harold said, though it seemed less blatant. 

He had been driving his beat-up car in the southeast Valley early one morning when he was pulled over by a Tempe policeman who had noticed the light that illuminates his license tag was burnt out.  Again, Harold was required to show all his paperwork. 

Given it was a slow time of day for the police officer and the offense was a modicum serious, profiling was not clear-cut.  But still you wonder.

It appears then, no surprise, that Arizona law enforcement was profiling long before the law and would’ve continued to do so, law or no law. 

In any case Harold has taken matters into his own hands.  He will again beat the system, though this time his wallet feels the pain.  His sedan, he said, now sports a new paint job.

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