It warms my heart to see so many bloggers and news organizations covering the Juana Villegas story. There is widespread outrage, and rightly so. Aunt B makes the point that this incident was not some anomaly, but, rather, the likely and intended result of the 287(g) program’s implementation. The agreement between Sheriff Hall’s office and ICE, coupled with the decision to deny driver’s licenses to the undocumented, ushered in the war of attrition against “scary brown people.”
Yes, without meaningful civilian oversight, huge numbers of people will be de-humanized and suffer so we can catch the next Gustavo Reyes. Never mind the fact that as a multiple drunk driver, he should have been in jail long before he caused that tragic accident. I have long maintained that the Reyes case was a failure of our local court system, not our immigration system. I have stated publicly that for every potential Gustavo Reyes the program catches, it will chew through dozens if not hundreds of families whose sole “crime” is commuting to work, church, or school.
I remember interviewing Chief Serpas about the program long before it was implemented, because I knew full well that any discretion would have to be exercised by line officers on the street. Serpas is said to fond of stats, and he indeed assured me that systems were in place to identify any rogue officers that might, say, unfairly target a particular segment of Nashville’s population. However, he was steadfast in his assertion that MPD has no choice but to enforce the drivers license laws, and let the chips fall where they may. I bring up the interview with Chief Serpas for another reason, though, which I will explain below.
First, indulge me while I state the obvious. Cops are people. As such, they bring their own personal biases and prejudices with them on patrol. The good ones see themselves as part of the community, and hold themselves to a high standard of professionalism. There are others, though, that see themselves at war with the community, or at least parts of it. No doubt, the day to day interaction with people at their worst takes a toll on the most balanced and prepared officers. The bunker mentality quickly settles in, and soon, many officers find themselves unable to bond with anyone except another officer.
There are merchants who love to exploit that rift between police officers and the general public. They take out ads in police trade magazines, hawking their gear by making the world seem all the more unsafe for the officer caught without the latest baton, taser, firearm, night vision googles, or handcuffs. It is, I assume, a booming business.
So, I’m sitting in the lobby of Chief Serpas’s office, and I find myself flipping through one of these trade magazines while I wait. I was floored by what I saw. Article after article in which the undocumented are vilified and reduced to dangerous criminals. Tasteless cartoons depicting these people as part of the Brown Horde, intent on invading YOUR community, officer, so “what will you do about it? ”
With luck, we will soon see many of our soldiers returning from duty in Iraq. Many of them will turn to law enforcement as a natural career choice. To be sure, their knowledge of tactics, training, and weaponry, along with the discipline a stint in the Armed Services instills, will make them attractive candidates for PDs all across the nation. Unfortunately, some of them will bring a bunker mentality home with them, and on to their civilian jobs. This is where civilian oversight is key…and sadly, missing from most cities and towns.
I am fearful that an anti-immigrant mindset will spread throughout our police departments and jails. Truthfully, I fear it already has. Clearly, the decision to shackle a woman during child delivery was rooted in loathing, or, perhaps worse, indifference to what happens “to one of them.”