We had a great weekend full of parties and friends and good eats and drinks. But coloring the weekend was a disturbing story I heard from K'wali at his place Saturday night.
A bit of context: K'wali is an American citizen of Persian descent. He and his wife Klezma have purchased a nice townhome in the nice neighborhood of Rodgers Forge. K'wali is an engineer for Verizon, and is getting his MS in some mathematical tomfoolery too complex for me to remember the name of. Perhaps the worst thing he has done in his entire life is singing Samantha Fox at karaoke.
On his way home from work recently, K'wali performed what he calls an 'inventive' interpretation of the stop sign at an intersection near his house. This maneuver is commonly known as the California Stop. Unfortunately for our hero, a Towson Precinct cruiser was there and pulled him over. As the intrepid officer ran K'wali's info, two more cruisers arrived. As a pedestrian in Towson I've witnessed this many times; when white people are pulled over for traffic infractions, there is only one officer necessary to complete the transaction. But when I see Hispanics, African-Americans, or other people of a more dusky complexion on the side of the road, there is always more than one responding police car. I have never seen an Asian pulled over (though K'wali qualifies as Asian given that Iran is in that part of the world).
But back to the story. K'wali was informed that there was a warrant out for his arrest. A ten-year-old warrant. He was cuffed and put into the back of a cruiser as his wife and entire neighborhood looked on. Klezma was appalled. She didn't know her husband ten years ago, after all, and the officers didn't tell her what the arrest was for. They simply said "He'll get a phone call." K'wali was taken to a police facility, was cuffed to a table at one point, and was held in a holding cell with thieves and junkies for three hours. Meanwhile poor Klezma had to call her parents and K'wali's to figure out what to do.
For what dire offense was K'wali detained? For what loathsome act committed ten years previously was he humiliated publicly in front of his neighbors? For what crime so odious that an officer pulling someone over after a traffic citation would choose to ignore the statue of limitations? For riding the Light Rail without a ticket. Ten years ago. K'wali has hardly been on the lam the last decade. He's bought a house, been hired by major corporations, renewed drivers' licenses.
I regard this as plain and simple harassment, and told K'wali he should shout it from the rooftops. Call the local media, get a lawyer, raise hell. No, he insists. That would make more trouble. Sure, he was arrested on a pretext, because his family name has more syllables and includes a Z and an H. But so what?
Unfortunately people say "so what?" too often. Some folks in K'wali's position have ended up whisked off to Kazakhstan or Syria on private jets, only to resurface years later with horror stories about their treatment. K'wali chose to plead guilty to the aged infraction without asking for representation. "I did it," he said. But this petty crime would have been expunged by any lawyer worth his or her salt I'm sure. I also can't imagine that if I were pulled over in Rodgers Forge and found to have done something similar in my youth that the officer would have failed to ignore a charge so outdated. Unless of course I had anti-Bush stickers on my car.
Ladies and gentlemen, your tax dollars at work. Meanwhile, armed robberies and rapes happen more frequently than ever in the seat of the Baltimore County Government. I suppose the Towson Precinct has no more pressing concerns than to pester citizens whose ethnicity they regard as immediately suspect.