The Heat is On

Posted June 19, 2008 in News

On May 3, when the Pomona Police Department came in with their Traffic Safety Checkpoint staging equipment, city-franchised tow truck operators close behind, and set up shop in a vacant lot in the northeast corner of the intersection of San Antonio Ave. and Mission Blvd., Eddie, the night proprietor of Sunny’s Liquor, knew exactly what to do: he shut down for the rest of the night. Based on past experience, customers being followed into his lot by motorcycle policemen and asked to produce identification tend to kill business. Shutting down is not an easy decision to make for the independent retailer—Sunny’s is open 365 days a year.


Across the street at the Pomona Mobile Estates, residents braced for another sort of disruption, one that affects their everyday routine. Afraid of having their cars impounded on a technicality, residents found ways to evade the DUI checkpoint and all of its repercussions. And, as it turns out, for good reason—even a one-day impound carries a heavy toll; over $200 in city, tow and storage fees to any of the three tow companies contracted by the city to carry out its “mission” as a grantee with the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). The mission: “to reduce deaths, injuries and economic losses resulting from traffic related collisions.”


In the circus-like atmosphere that followed, dozens of bystanders milled about, customers of Brothers Market and Ralph’s Barber Shop grumbled, entire families were left without transportation home after their cars were taken away, and the whole neighborhood felt as if it was in the grip of a police state. Several Pomona City Council members were present. The City Minutes for the May 5 meeting described one, Paula Lantz, a staunch checkpoint supporter, as “disheartened” by what she saw.  The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported that another, Cristina Carrizosa, whose district the checkpoint fell under, used harsher language, comparing the Pomona Police to the “Gestapo.”  


Later, one nearby Spanish-speaking resident, who did not want to be identified, said through an interpreter, “It gave me terror.” 


By the time the night was over, according to statistics provided in a City Council Report for the June 2 meeting, close to 3,000 cars had been screened, three people were arrested (two on DUI charges), 108 cars had been impounded, and 125 citations were issued, 16 of which related to suspended or revoked drivers licenses. Those numbers more or less jibe with the average of bi-weekly checkpoints in Pomona. Only on this night, the fallout from the checkpoint—a controversial four-point stop that snared drivers from all directions—would shake the city of Pomona to its core, evoking charges of racism, cronyism and celebrations at the expense of Pomona’s working poor, all leading to appeals and street marches straight to City Hall.  


A stormy month of protests and high-octane City Council meetings followed. Police Chief Joe Romero called for an apology from Carrizosa. An activist group, Pomona Habla, submitted a petition with a list of grievances and demands. Pomona residents, on both sides of the fence, vigorously postulated their views. The City Attorney investigated and made recommendations.  


What happened with this particular civic clash is a microcosm of what can be found in just about any city within the IE. Poor laborers, many new to the area and raising families with little or no documentation, literally drive right into the crosshairs of police actions—actions implemented by civil servants sworn to uphold the law, with longtime entrenched residents, who have spent their lives following the rules. In this case, they are citizens of Pomona, and they are all looking towards a divided City Council for leadership and guidance.  


On June 2, the conflict of a city torn between providing law and order and respecting human rights, spilled over in yet another City Council meeting. As dozens of protesters shouted “No more checkpoints!” outside council chambers and members of city staff and the police department made their statements, two immediate changes in procedure were noted. Checkpoints would hereby be conducted no earlier than 6:00pm and the four-point stop would be scuttled altogether. This mollified the protesters only slightly.


The real battle came in the public discussion period. Anti-checkpoint activists and business owners called for a moratorium. Pro-police residents were joined by a representative of the Minutemen Project and several out-of-town speakers, almost every one of whom were shouted down. 

–Kevin Ausmus



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