Profiling by the California Highway Patrol in Oakland, California: More Inclusive Than You Might Think

by Patricia V. Davis

It’s been a common complaint by the citizens of Oakland, California over the years that their police department is a sham.  In fact, one has only to search the term “racial profiling Oakland Police department” on the internet for pages of links to unrelated instances of alleged excessive force, extortion and racial profiling to pop up. And on October 18, 2012, a possible federal takeover of the department was reported  because of what appears to be fairly widespread corruption.

“Alleged” and “appears to be.” Those are words that serious journalists are careful to use when reporting on accusations that haven’t been proven, and I am a serious journalist. But in this case, I can dispense with the careful phrases because I have first-hand experience that racial profiling and corruption does indeed exist, at least in the California Highway Patrol Department of the Oakland Police. And that is because I too was profiled. I was entrapped and illegally ticketed, and when I objected to this in Oakland traffic court, although my fine was reduced by almost two thirds, I was still found guilty and would have been even before I started to defend myself. Why? The comment I heard one police officer made to a lawyer when I was leaving the courtroom should answer that question. “All I have to do is show up,” said that police officer to the lawyer, “and I automatically win.”

Good to know if you live in Oakland. Or if, as I did, you happen to be driving through Oakland and then happen to get lost. 

Remember what our parents told us when we were kids about getting lost? “Always find a policeman to help you.”

Ha. Not in Oakland. Not if you’re Black or Hispanic, not if you’re a white female and driving a newish Mercedes and are coming from Marin County and then see a policeman sitting on the side of the highway and signal to him for help, and then are granted permission to pull your car over in front of him.

For those who are unfamiliar with the geography, there is a Neptune’s sea of difference between Marin County and Oakland County. While Oakland is the seat of the Bay Area’s most economically challenged, Marin County is known for its wealth and BMWs which citizens jokingly call, “Basic Marin Wheels.”  And though I purchased my particular German-made car used, that didn’t matter to the police officer, Kevin Law, who after he motioned for me to pull over when I signaled him for help, kept me sitting on the side of the road for more than a half an hour without informing me he was going to give me a ticket for ─ you guessed it ─ pulling over to the side of the road.

“She was driving a Mercedes,” he sneered in court.

That mattered to him, just as it mattered to him that I was coming from privileged Marin County. After granted me permission to pull off the road and over in front of him, he walked over to my car. And when I told him I was lost and needed his help, he asked me where I had come from. And I told him I’d been to a luncheon at a local church in Oakland, courtesy of Girls Inc. of Alameda County whom we had sponsored to attend our Women’s PowerStrategy Conference the month before. Then he asked where I lived and if the car I was driving was my car. He asked for my license and registration and when I explained that I had an out-of-state license because I spend most of my time out of California, he asked me if I owned a house in both states. And then he handed me a ticket for pulling over into “a carpool lane” where he had been stopped in his patrol car and where he had directed me to go. What he did not do, after holding me there and interrogating me about my lifestyle and finances for over a half an hour, was help me find my way home, which was what I had asked him to help me with in the first place.

And that’s when it hit me that I had been profiled: Marin + Mercedes + Two Houses + Luncheon + Lost White Woman in Oakland = Jackpot for Officer Law.

Ironic name that, isn’t it? ─ Officer Law. Kevin Law. There is nothing about the law that this young hooligan wearing a police uniform respects. He broke the law. He lied in court and he gave me an illegal ticket which he got away with doing because of a corrupt branch of the judicial system. And so that’s why I’m saying his name here: Kevin Law, Kevin Law, Kevin Law. Be on the look out for him and his ilk if you’re in Oakland whether you’re an Ann Romney in a white Mercedes or a cleaning woman in black skin. He will not like you no matter which and his wearing of a police uniform means he is sanctioned to harm you. After that, as I found out, it’s your word against his. And I am proof that he will win.

In his mind, I’m rich, white, and live in an upper middle class community that’s an hour away. I’ve nothing better to do then drive around in my fancy car to go to luncheons in places I can’t find my way out of, because I have so much money that, naturally, I don’t work for a living, or do anything useful at all. Which makes me the perfect person to issue a ticket to, I guess. Since he thinks I can afford it, I won’t contest it. I don’t live anywhere near the area he’s issuing it, and I’ve already gotten lost there once, so I’d never willingly come all the way back for a traffic hearing, would I? And I’m stupid because I’m lost, and intimidated because I’m female, so I certainly wouldn’t write a letter to his sergeant about what happened to me, either.

But that is exactly what I did do. I wrote a letter immediately after the incident and sent it to Kevin Law’s sergeant, a Sergeant Headley. I did this on the advice of not one, but two police officers ─ real police officers ─ who also told me that I should ask for the video recording that would have been running when Kevin Law gave me permission to pull over to the side of the road where he’s been sitting in wait for someone like me.  Sergeant Headley spoke with me on the phone and actually encouraged me to return to Oakland for the court case. He said he would “speak to Officer Law” on how to handle things like this in the future. He also informed me that there was no video recording of the incident because as I stated, I asked for permission to pull over and it was granted by Kevin Law, so for that reason he did not start the video camera now required in his car. (Remember that if you’re ever erroneously pulled over and must go to court. Ask to see that video, and hope they don’t lie about that, too.)

Encouraged by Sergeant Headley’s response to my letter, I took a day off from work and dragged my husband with me (who has a far better sense of direction) and went to court. And encountered Kevin Law who lied on the stand. But it wouldn’t have mattered, for the simple reason that all he had to do was show up, and the judge, who clearly knew I was telling the truth since he reduced my fine so drastically, backed him up. Cronyism much?

So, I’m writing this account for two reasons: to inform the public that yes, there is corruption in the Oakland law enforcement department. It’s not speculation, it’s not made up by desperate law breakers who happen to be Black or Hispanic or Asian and use that as an excuse to get away with terrible crimes. It’s not made up by disgruntled Occupy Oakland protesters who claimed “overwhelming military-type” police brutality.

It’s being told to you by me ─ a law-abiding, middle aged, white, female, non partisan journalist who is saying to you in writing and naming names ─ that you had better watch your ass when you drive through Oakland, California. Not because of the citizens. Because of “Officer” Kevin Law and others like him wearing badges or robes and getting away with what one supposes only happens in third world countries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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