Driving While Brown

Alexander - san luis obispo, California
Entered on May 1, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
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On the night of April 29, 2009, at about 7:45pm, I was leaving my University’s campus when I saw the red and blue lights in my rear view mirror; it was the city police signaling me to pull over. I wasn’t too worried because I was 90% sure that I had not done anything wrong. After the officer asked for my license and registration he asked me if I knew why he had pulled me over. I looked at him with a blank stare and told him that I had no idea why he pulled me over. He said that the reason he pulled me over was because I had my music on too loud; my music was only loud enough so that the person next to me could hear it. What alarmed him was that I had no aftermarket sound system. The officer then asked me if had been doing any drugs because he smelled the scent of marijuana coming from my car. I tried to explain to him that my brother uses medical marijuana for back pains and that I had driven him from San Jose to San Luis Obispo so the smell was from that. The officer did not believe me and then asked me to get out of the car where I was handcuffed and asked to sit on the curb and wait while he searched my car.

While sitting on the curb with my black sweater, hood on, and baseball cap on with, I could not help but feel like a victim. It made no sense to me that I was pulled over at 7:45pm for having loud music when there were other cars around with sound systems that would make my car shake. Then like a lightning bolt it dawned upon that I was being racially profiled. I am Vietnamese but I have been told that I look Filipino, most likely because I am very tan.

He could not find any marijuana in my car because there was none. After he un-cuffed me I asked him for his name and badge number. For a moment he gives me a dirty look then says “I won’t give you a ticket for the noise disturbance so you are free to go.” As he is walking back to his patrol car I ask him again for his information but he continues into his car and leaves.

It seems like many people believe that stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. However, I feel as if one’s experience with my race, or my presumed race, has negatively affected the way I am perceived. The officer knew nothing about me except I had music playing from my car and that I had brown skin. I believe that the practice of racial profiling is ignorant and detrimental to the progression of our society.