Today, like everyday, is an opportunity to learn and grow.
I was coming back from speaking with a colleague on the northwest side of the city and driving towards DePaul University to attend the “Latino-izando American Politics: A Latina Pundit’s Perspective on Washington and how the Changing Demographics are Affecting the Nation’s Political System” around 5:30pm. I was to meet a few people I planned on collaborating with regarding arts programs, law school admissions and the presence of Latino students, and scholarship opportunities for youth and discussing these matters at the reception prior to the event. I wanted to discuss the importance of higher education and the imperative nature of having Latino students in law school.
As I was driving on the I-90, a vehicle drove towards my lane, no signal, and crashed unto the left side of my vehicle, damaging the bumper. The young man, not possessing his insurance card or car registration form, was unapologetic and upset about the incident and stated he “didn’t see me” on while he was attempting to merge lanes. He called a state police official and we waited off the Addison exit for a few minutes.
The state police officer arrived and seemed to be disgruntled about having to come. He automatically approached me, stating I was “wasting his time” by having him appear. I stated I wasn’t the one who’d called him and pointed towards the 30-something year old man who’d hit my car. While I was trying to explain my side of the story to the officer, he aggressively stated to “not try to place the blame on someone else” while avoiding the fact that the man did not have his insurance card in his vehicle. With accordance to Jesse White and the State of IL law, I believe the last time I checked it was a requirement to carry one’s vehicle registration form and insurance card at all times. However, it appeared that this police officer was more interested in harassing me.
The police officer, attempting to patronize me, asked if I “knew how to fill out a form” (a vehicle accident form). Dressed in a business suit, returning from a meeting with a colleague, the officer attempted to patronize me while avoiding the fact that filling out the forms was his job as an officer in this time of need. I told him that the form was pretty self-explanatory and that I could fill it out myself. Again, insisting in a more aggressive tone that if I “needed some help” with the form, he would do it. I, speaking to him in a polite and respectful manner, stated that I didn’t appreciate the negative attitude he was giving me and attempting to degrade me with his use aggressive attitude and lack of fair treatment and judgement. He looked at my driver’s license, and stated he recognized my name. “Hey, you’re that guy who’s running for office in the 4th ward. Won’t an accident like this hurt your campaign?” I told him that 1) the accident was clearly not my fault, 2) whether I was running for a political office or not it was irrelevant to what was happening at the moment, 3) I stated I was giving him respect and speaking to him courteously while he continuously acted in an unprofessional and disrespectful manner.
Furthermore, this state police officer didn’t inspect either vehicle for damage and was more concerned with the validity of my words and driver’s license than the actual matter at hand. By trying to intimidate me and provoke conflict by slamming my car door and knocking on my vehicle’s windows for no apparent reason, it seems that he wanted me to respond in a way that would allow him to retaliate freely and justifiably.
With regards to my running for Congressman of the 4th Legislative District, he stated it would be “not be a good idea” to run for politics in Chicago. He then proceeded to take away my driver’s license. The officer insisted that I was in violation of the speed limit. I’m sorry, but how possible is it to “violate the speed limit” during rush hour in one of the nation’s busiest highways? Through the best of my knowledge, I highly doubt 15 mph constitutes speeding.
The other driver, on the other hand, was not reprehended for not having his insurance card or his involvement in the accident. In fact, the state police officer didn’t afford him the equal harassment and patronizing behavior he felt so justly in offering me. City tow-truck drivers, arriving about half an hour before the state police man, were witnessing the entire thing. They were actually the ones who instructed us to go to the accident site off the Addison ramp while waiting for the state police. These men witnessed that the young man did not have a vehicle registration form or insurance card on him. In fact, we all saw and waited for this young man, the driver of the other vehicle, to receive his insurance card over email via his iPhone. After 45 minutes, the tow-truck drivers left.
As a concerned citizen, community leader and activist, an educator, a socially-responsible member of society, a Latino, as an American of color, a feminist, and as a Chicagoan, I feel the burden and the ever-present attitudes and prejudices present in our society and brought forth by the media, law enforcement officials, and individuals. Not only does this negative experience remind me that there are a countless number people in this city, state, and country that are victims of discrimination on a daily basis, but it motivates me to stay strong and keep the people’s interests in mind as I continue to run as a write-in candidate for the 4th legislative district. It’s discriminatory attitudes and biases that prevent us from reaching further success and dialogue in society and this is truly disappointing.
This experience has challenged me to really consider cases of civil and human rights violations and harassment very seriously if elected Congressman. Civil and human rights are not exclusive to certain groups of people; they are everyone’s right and everyone is affected by the actions of others. As a person who does his best to be inclusive and act in socially-responsible ways, it’s a priority of mine to ensure that other citizens are not intimidated, harassed, or patronized by law enforcement officials for the color of their skin, for knowing their rights, for the language they speak, for their social class, or for their ability to recognize prejudice and call them out on it.
Everyday is truly an opportunity to learn and grow. Make the most of every experience and know your rights so as to protect yourself against injustices.
After receiving a call from my insurance agent earlier today, February 17th, 2012, it was confirmed that the driver who in fact hit my vehicle did not receive a citation or ticket for his negligent actions. I am looking forward to taking this case to court.