Revolutionary Worker #1008, May 30, 1999
OAKLAND--D'Wayne Wiggins, guitarist for the nationally known rhythm and blues group Tony! Toni! Tone! was sitting in his Mercedes Benz station wagon outside Dorsey's Locker, a spoken word venue in North Oakland, on March 29. While Wiggins talked with a friend and sipped on a bottle of Evian water he noticed an Oakland cop cruise up behind him. Since no lights were flashing D'Wayne ignored the cop and figured that he was just running his plates to see if the car was stolen or stalking youth as the club let out--typical police harassment.
The next thing Wiggins knew the cop had walked over to his car and yanked the door open. "He opens my car door and he comes and chokes me, telling me, `Spit it out! Spit it out!"' Wiggins told a press conference after the attack. Only after Wiggins protested, tried to pry the cops hands off of his neck, and an angry crowd started to gather did the cop back off. The mainstream media did not cover the incident, however news of the attack spread via e-mail and internet posting by Davey D, a local hip-hop DJ. The officer tried to justify the brutal attack by claiming that he thought that Wiggins was trying to swallow drugs. "I was just doing Evian," Wiggins told the cop.
On April 21, alongside representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, D'Wayne Wiggins announced that he was filing a $1 million lawsuit against the Oakland Police Department. "The white officer made an assumption because (Wiggins) is a young African American male with a dreadlocked hairstyle that he must have been doing drugs," states the claim, which accused the cops of unlawful detention and excessive force.
"Everyone in Oakland knows D'Wayne Wiggins," wrote Davey D in his article on the beating. "He's not just a renowned musician but a community activist who is always accessible and visible. He came out of East Oakland and went to school at Castlemont High. He's been responsible for economically backing a lot of projects for up-and-coming entrepreneurs while remaining in the back drop."
The incident has focused attention in the Bay Area on racial profiling by the cops--where the police stop and harass motorists for no other reason than 'DWB--Driving While Black or Brown.' This racist practice is evidence of the continuing deep-rooted national oppression and discrimination of Black people and other oppressed nationalities--where today a whole generation of youth are being treated like criminals. There is a whole world of white supremacy behind the police officers who assume that a Black man in an expensive car or suburban neighborhood is a criminal.
Speaking at Wiggins' press conference, his attorney, John Burris, said that the incident is typical of the nationwide problem. "It is our view that this is a process that needs to stop," Burris said. "African Americans have the right to freedom of expression and should not have their constitutional rights violated because of the color of their skin or the youthfulness of their being."
Almost every Black and Latino person has experience being harassed and stopped by the police while driving just because of their nationality. An Inglewood High School teacher told the L.A. Times that he and his 19-year-old son have been stopped so many times "there is no way I can give you a number." Any time you see a police officer behind you, if you are a Black youth you are going to be stopped." His jeep has a license plate holder reading, "D.W.B. (Driving While Black) Is Not Illegal!"
Raymond Marshall, President of the State Bar of California and an African American, wrote of his experiences: "Being stopped because of one's race is all too frequent.... One night my wife and I were coming home from the movies. We lived at the time in the Oakland Hills. A police car followed us up Redwood Road and when we turned into our driveway, he followed us into our driveport and ordered us to stay in our car. The officer then approached us in our garage, asked us if we lived in our house, for ID and to verify our residence. Imagine, in our own house, on our own property, in our own garage! He never gave us any reason for the stop."
Even O.J. Simpson prosecutor Chris Darden--now a professor of law at Southwestern University in Los Angeles--has spoken out about how he has been "stopped and confronted by gun-toting officers demanding that I put my hands on the steering wheel or exit my vehicle and lie on the ground." Darden says that over the years he has been stopped by police in Whittier, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Richmond just because he is Black. "It is demeaning. It is humiliating. It sticks with you," Darden said at a recent meeting.
The issue of racial profiling drew national attention as the result of a 1992 lawsuit that focused on racially based police stops on a stretch of I-95 between Baltimore and the Delaware border. Statistics compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal that 74 percent of drivers along this highway are white and 17 percent are Black. Yet the ACLU found that 73 percent of those stopped by the cops were Black. Black motorists were also much more likely to face demeaning searches. The ACLU found that one officer only searched cars belonging to African American drivers. More than 70 percent of the searches by nine other cops were of Blacks.
Despite overwhelming evidence, the police deny that people are targetted because they are Black or Latino. "There is no evidence that this phenomenon occurs," Commander David Kalish, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department, told the L.A. Times. And cops and politicians have opposed measures that would prove that they are practicing racially based stops. Last year former California Governor Pete Wilson vetoed a bill that would require the police to gather statistics on whether they pull over Black or Latino drivers more often than whites. Wilson said that the bill would provide "no certain or useful conclusions." Oakland Police Chief Joseph Samuels also opposed gathering information on the profile of drivers stopped by his department, saying that he feared that it would lead to "analysis paralysis."
In response, the ACLU has started a hotline in California for drivers to report their experiences of "Driving While Black." When the hotline was announced on a L.A. newscast, it received so many calls in the first three minutes that the system shut down. Since the hotline started in October 1998 it has received over 1,000 calls documenting incidents of racial profiling by the police.
The ACLU has also put up English and Spanish language billboards to publicize the hotline. The English billboard features three young African American men with the quote, "If I had a dollar for every time I was pulled over by the police...." The billboard geared to Spanish speakers states, "!Otra vez me paró la policía por ser Latino." (Once again, the police stopped me for being Latino.) The billboards were designed for free by local advertising firms. They are up in 32 locations in the Bay Area. English and Spanish ads have also been airing on the radio in recent weeks as part of the campaign.
"I'm a man of peace, but sometimes you gotta bring the heat. The only description I fit was a Black man rolling down the street," D'Wayne Wiggins told reporters at the press conference announcing his lawsuit. Wiggins also unveiled a new song that he wrote about the incident. "I just had to put the situation on tape, he said. The lyrics include, "I was breaking no law," and "Why did you put your hands on me?" In the song Tony! Toni! Tone! sing a hook from "Strange Fruit" written by blues legend Billie Holiday--`strange fruit' hanging from trees with blood on the roots. "Strange fruit" refers to the thousands of Black men who were lynched by the Klan, police, and other racists.
On April 23, Wiggins joined the rap group Black Star and other musicians in New York to record a benefit single in response to the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo, the 22-year-old African immigrant who was killed recently by the NYPD who fired 41 shots at the unarmed man.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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