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Checkpoint in Montebello, Inciting Riots, Up Against the Wall and Earning the Right to be on the Street with Signs that Say “Reten”
By Asolti Papalotl and Quetzalxoquiyae
Our communities have seen an increase in raids and driver’s license checkpoints in the last year as another approach by the repressive police and ICE, aka Migra, to create fear, scapegoat our raza as the reason for all of the problems of the United States, and to continue the everlasting relationship of conquerors and conquered.
This is my land. Show me YOUR papers.
On July 27, 2007, at approximately 8pm, my mother and my friend were driving west on Whittier on our way home. We live in the unincorporated parts of East Los, a place where sheriffs rule and houses are too expensive for working class people to afford.
We passed by a checkpoint on the opposite side of the street. I called and sent text messages to various people to get the word out on the reten on Whittier, east of Garfield.
Within 20 minutes, we returned to Whittier and Garfield to see how we could help. We drove right through the checkpoint, the officer asked me for my license and asked if I was drunk. To which I replied, “Not yet.” He laughed and he waved me through. There were news reporters about 20 police officers, and tow trucks ready for business.
We drove around to Garfield and Whitter to park our car. We were going to walk over and do some “legal observing.”
At that moment a woman who was very distraught passed us and said they had taken her car. She was frantically trying to wave others down to tell them not to go through the checkpoint.
I noticed a man at a nearby restaurant throwing boxes away. I went over and started to write with a sharpie (typical east los you are thinking, but actually a man passing by gave it to me!) Reten on various cardboard boxes.
Two community officers came over to ask me what I was doing. I said, I am making signs. He says for what. I say, because I want to. He goes away.
Five minutes later another man comes up in a truck with cop lights flashing. He says to me what are you doing. I say, we’re holding signs. He says, you cant do that. I say, why not? He says because its illegal. I say, give me the law that says it is. He says, oh, you’re going to get your law and drives off.
My friend and I cross the street. We figure we can get people to turn better if we are on the other side. Within 10 minutes, a policeman in a motorcycle rides up the ramp on the corner, on to the sidewalk and screams at us to put our signs down.
Put Your Signs Down!
We look at him and say, no, we have a right to be here.
He yells again, “Put the signs down and step over to the wall!”
At this point, he is not very nice.
My friend puts down her sign.
I don’t want to. (I must have problems with authority.) Although, I am not going to lie, I was scared.
So then he pulls out his handcuffs. He screams, put the sign down or I will handcuff you.
I say, “Am I under arrest? What law did I break?”
He cites California Code 4 something or rather, and says that I am inciting a riot.
He grabbed my sign and threw it on the floor and told me to get up against the wall. At this point, my friend and I listen. But we don’t want to face the wall. So I tell him, “No need to scream at us, can’t we talk like adults?”
To which he responds, “We’re going to do things my way. Now get up against the wall or I will handcuff you.”
So we do, like alleged criminals, turn around, he places his hand on my lower back. My friend is patted on her back jean pockets.
He then asked us to turn around. He then says, which one of you is older? To which I respond, what is the relevance? Are you arresting us?
“You are being detained for an investigation. We have reports from people that you are out on the street, yelling and inciting riots. So I am conducting an investigation.”
He says this while he is standing on my signs.
This is bothering me.
He says so which one of you is the adult? Which one of you wants to be the spokesperson? Two beautiful young ladies on a Friday night, have better things to do than to be out here holding up signs.
I say I have a right to be here and hold up whatever sign I want. I know my legal rights…
At this point the officer was no longer yelling and sort of surprised that we had stood our ground. Community members were present and watching as the police continued to talk to my friend and I about checkpoints, immigration and other issues.
He bent over picked up my sign and gave it back to me. He for the next five minutes explained the legal parameters to which I could be on the street (I already knew these things, but he felt he was helping me…)
When he left, the community that was there cheered and some people offered to hold up our makeshift cardboard box signs.
At around 12am, the same police officer came by to tell me that the police were shutting the checkpoint down early due to low traffic.
In all honesty, I do not know the number of cars that turned away. I know about 20-30 cars were impounded. I saw families, mothers and their children walking away from the checkpoint with their belongings. I saw working class people, not drunk people, walking away upset because their cars were taken.
On the other hand, I saw my community pass by honking, waving, thumbs up in the air to tell us thank you for the alert.
By law, there are supposed to be warnings prior to the checkpoints. These warnings say, DUI Checkpoint Ahead, Prepare to STOP. They are diamond shaped, like the orange construction signs we see in other places. The sad reality is that most of these checkpoints are conducted in barrios where most people may not read English well if at all.
I wanted to write and share what happened on Friday because I think it is important that as a community we respond to these attacks on our community. This is my barrio, this is mi gente, and if the police, la migra, los pinches militares, come in, we need to stand up and say YA BASTA!
If we are good enough to work here, picking your vegetables and cleaning your toilets, then we should have the BASIC right to drive to work. Immigrants are not products, objects, items that can be moved back and forth across our illegal borders as if they were expendable. We are human, we are workers, we are mothers, we are struggling to achieve what every person wants for their family…
I encourage any of you who are interested in being part of la Frente Contra las Redadas to contact me and work within our communities to confront the issue of raids and police taking our people away…
Aqui estamos…. Esta es mi tierra.