In the wake of President Trump’s announcement to withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities, places where federal immigration laws are not enforced, one story coming out of Bel Air, Maryland is getting national attention. Bel Air, MD is approximately 90 percent White, with a spattering of races and nationalities making up the remaining 10 percent. Resident Aravinda Pillalamarri, a naturalized U.S. citizen from India, says she found out the hard way how her neighbors feel about her presence in the neighborhood and how police treat people of color — in a modern day xenophobic police state.
“Ihre Papiere, Bitte!” That phrase often brought shudders to the people who heard it in the 1930s and ’40s. It is German for “Your papers, please,” and its sinister nostalgia is once again making a comeback.
Pillalamarri says she was simply enjoying a nice walk, just steps away from her home, when law enforcement officers arrived and began questioning her. When she explained that she lived nearby and was merely out for a walk, the officer on scene told her he’d received a call supposedly reporting a suspicious person. Pillalamarri replied to the officer with a question of her own, asking if it was a crime to be, “Walking while brown?”
When a supervisor arrived and began to question her more aggressively, she was informed that she “was under criminal investigation.” As The Free Thought Project has consistently reported, the officers then followed their modus operandi in asking Pillalamarri for her state-issued identification. Producing none, she was then questioned as to why she was not in possession of an ID card. That’s when officers asked her a question that admittedly disturbed her. They questioned, “Why don’t you have ID?” and, “Are you here illegally?”
According to the Baltimore Sun, “Pillalamarri, 47, has lived in Bel Air for more than 30 years and is a U.S. citizen. Her parents came to America from India when she was a baby. She went to Bel Air High School. She walks in her neighborhood nearly every day.” The thought that someone would look at her outward appearance and conclude she is someone to be seen in a suspicious light was disturbing to her.
Instead of filing a lawsuit, and taking her case to court, potentially suing for racial profiling, she went to the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners meeting to voice her concerns. “Only when the supervisor asked ‘are you here illegally’ did my sense of color, and of being unequal, come forth, and my interest in my civil rights take a back seat to get out of the situation safely,” she told the board.
“Public safety does not need to come at the cost of civil rights,” she implored. “I am sharing this incident here not to ask anyone here to find fault or take sides. We are all on the same side and can use this as an opportunity to learn and improve. The responsibility to uphold civil rights is one that all of us share, and we need to do our part and also expect the police to do their part.”
Bel Air Police Chief Charles Moore told reporters, “If there isn’t one, there will be,” when asked about his department’s policy of questioning the immigration status of individuals. “That’s not a concern of ours,” Moore said, adding, “That’s just not the proper protocol that I would take. And my officers, from what I’ve seen from their performance, I don’t see that from them either.”
Pillalamarri was detained while her name was checked through the police database. She was afterward allowed to go on her way. But the incident now serves to highlight the problem of racial profiling, the expectation by police that residents carry identification at all times, and the reaction of the ethnic majority (Whites) to ethnic minorities engaged in their daily dealings.
First and foremost, no citizen should be questioned by police because police receive a phone call of a suspicious person in a neighborhood. Neither should police feel compelled to investigate such calls. Someone is only a suspect when and if they’ve committed a crime.
Your neighbors are not suspects simply for walking down a neighborhood street. And, police have to understand that asking someone for identification without suspecting that individual of having committed a crime, is plain and simple harassment — not too mention a dangerous and slippery slope.
If Pillalamarri had not complied with officer questions, had attempted to walk away without answering, or had run away out of fear, the headline to this story might be very different, as TFTP has reported.
All too often, encounters with police leave innocent people insulted, injured, imprisoned, or worse. As we have consistently reported, anything less than 100 percent compliance with officer commands seems to give the police a false sense of entitlement to invalidate a person’s rights and assault, kidnap, or cage said individuals.
That’s what has to change in America. Residents should not be threatened with having a gun pointed at their heads simply because they choose not to comply with officers’ questioning. Neither should they be subjected to being tasered simply because an officer just got a new one and wants to try it out.
The policy of 100 percent compliance must stop, along with this apparently new policy of harassing brown people.
Pillalamarri should have felt empowered to be able to continue walking along the sidewalk without being compelled to answer ANY of the responding officers’ questions. She has a right to remain silent. She also has a right to liberty, which means she has a right to continue on her way. She has a right to liberty, to feel free to walk away from police at any point.
Unfortunately, in the police state, which is what America is quickly becoming, citizens are too afraid to exercise those rights out of fear they’ll be thrown to the ground, handcuffed, or beaten for not complying.
Heed this warning, TFTP readers: First, they came for the Muslims.