Friday, August 1, 2008

Driving While Black (and Pregnant)

Watch the video below and be the judge -- that phrase is like fingernails across a blackboard to me -- but you probably will judge, it's only human.

If so, though, if you might want to be responsible about it, and if you try, you'll need to sift through a lot of conflicting stories, rumors and innuendos. Especially if you're gathering your "facts" here on the internet.

And just in case you've never come across the term "Driving While Black" just click the link there for a primer. A personal account of experiences of DWB also appears on at least one woman's blog. Elsewhere on a blog, a pastor who investigated the story further found that the outstanding warrants that are made so much of by those wishing to demonize Sofia Salva were in fact all poverty related. The most serious charges of child endangerment stemmed from her difficult but reasonable choice to leave her children unattended as she went out to get food.

The officers involved have since been fired on charges related directly to this event and Sofia Salva's miscarriage which took place immediately after her release from jail -- the release was precipitated when Salva passed a large blood clot.

The charges against the officers can be read for Officers Schell and Spencer at the links under their names.

What I find particularly of interest here is the third count in Officer Schell's charge sheet, where he failed to take the allegedly "fake" tag into evidence. I find myself remembering the stories my mother once told me about riding through Salt Lake City with hispanic work associates, and getting a first-hand taste of what it's like to be pulled over for "driving while non-white."

I'll be expanding this when I learn more details.

And while I agree with Midtown Miscreant that the officers should be (and now have been) fired, I think he missed the boat by a step or two. If you read the charges against these officers, they were fired for violating at least three specific departmental policies, not for racial profiling per se, or anything explicitly tied to the race of Ms. Salva.

I haven't found a copy of the referenced policy manual (yet) but, for those un-inclined to read the charges, they appear to have been:

1. Despite repeated statements (clear on the video) both officers failed to arrange for Ms. Salva to receive medical attention for her bleeding and suspected miscarriage;

2. Both officers treated her in a generally disrespectful and unprofessional manner;

3. Neither officer managed to take into evidence the alleged proof of the cause of their apprehension of Ms. Salva, leaving in doubt whether or not the tags were indeed "fake." We have only the officers' word, therefore that the tags were in fact a problem.

True, there are many possible scenarios that could be used to excuse the officers' behavior, but in essence they were operating under the assumption she was guilty of "something" and their subsequent behavior seems just as likely to have been an attempt to create probable cause for the stop as it does anything else. Then again, I do not have before me any of evidence against Salva, such as alleged warrants. But, warrants were never mentioned during the run of the tape, so far as I could make out -- there are, though many statements on the tape that are less than crystal clear.

While it seems likely that Salva is no angel, it also seems clear that she was distressed at the time, quite possibly due to the bleeding and her own stated concerns that she could be in the process of miscarrying. I've yet to see actual evidence and documentation of any wrongdoing on Salva's part which does not come from hearsay on some blogger's site, or derisive comments posted to various versions of the YouTube-d copy of the officers' dash cam.

Whatever her own issues and imperfections might be, it is not the business of police to play at judge or jury during an initial pull-over. Equal protection under the law must extend to all U.S. persons, not just those an officer assumes are being duly respectful, coherent, articulate, likely to know a good lawyer, and whose skin is an acceptable shade of pink.

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