THE BLOG

Driving While Black and Brown and LGBTQ

04/07/2014 11:57 am ET | Updated Jun 07, 2014
Janet Arelis Quezada

My partner and I were coming home from a gathering with friends in the East Bay. We lived in San Francisco's Mission District at the time and were engaged in the nightly ritual of finding parking. We were two women in a car, holding hands and sleepily making plans for the week. We had to make several loops around the block which included Army street, historically and significantly renamed for Cesar Chavez. That's when it happened. We were stopped by police officers engaged in their own common practice, a license raid.

If you're not familiar, this is what it looks like. Police officers target communities with high immigrant populations, and stop drivers they think might not have licenses. Often they look for ways to justify the stop so that it is not considered profiling but these practices always take place on the streets that outline neighborhoods of color. I am the daughter of two Dominican immigrants and my partner was born in El Salvador. My African ancestry dances across my cheekbones and her indigenous grandmother's form the creases in her smile.

The pretext -- the office said she was weaving -- was flimsy. My partner is a cautious driver and there was no way we were doing anything other than safely making our sixth trip down the lane praying for a space so we could finally go home. Quickly, the cop asked for her license and registration. The two of us were tense and quiet, but grateful that we could speak in coded movements developed during our, then five-year, relationship. We were weary of the stop escalating the ways it sometimes can in communities of color into unnecessary violence.

It seemed like we were on the side of the road forever as the officer looked for something he could cite her for to justify pulling us over. In the end, the policeman wrote her up for having a feather hanging from the rearview mirror that could potentially obstruct her view. Yes, a feather. I am sure we are not the only ones that hang objects of significance that help us feel safe and connected while we drive. She arranged to take time off work and we made the sacrifices we needed to so she could contest that ticket and it was dismissed in court. For weeks, though, we couldn't drive down that street without feeling a strong anger at the reminder.

Yet, we are the lucky ones. We both have documentation. We couldn't stop thinking about our brothers and sisters -- black, brown and "other" like us who do not have documentation and face these practices across the city and nation. They are driving to and from home, work, hospitals, schools and stores and each time they risk being stopped and detained. Only nine states and the District of Columbia give licenses to undocumented people.

There we sat in our car comforting each other after the officer drove away and we finally parked the car. We were both very upset. Unfairly targeted and forced to stay silent in the moment because of the balance of power, we could only replay what had just happened over and over. Every day, people are discriminated against for ancestry, for gender, for orientation, for immigration status. I wanted to share what that feels like because a lot folks just don't know. We cannot all be in each other's skins and shoes, nor should we have to in order to understand that no one should feel this way. Not in the 29 states where it is still possible to be fired for being gay or transgender. Not in the 41 states where undocumented people risk deportation just by going about their daily business because the U.S. has yet to craft a humane, comprehensive immigration reform.

The principle of discrimination works by allowing authorities to see all of us as suspect instead of seeing the blessings of our differences. People still tell us that we have a choice not to be who we are, or love who we love. People still tell our friends that they have a choice not to move, look for work, or join their families in this country when they come from somewhere else.

Our struggles for rights sit at the intersections of our realities. It is up to us to make the way clear for reform and for the changes necessary so that we can all be safe everywhere -- at work, at school and on the road home.