Arlington police tried to handle bad driving last week the same way they have for 10 years: with a license checkpoint.
But nothing is the same now as 10 years ago. That includes the way we view police barricades, orange traffic cones and checkpoints, even just to check who’s a legal driver.
“My phone started buzzing right away,” said Luis Castillo, president of a local League of United Latin American Citizens chapter and often an activist-spokesman for the 100,000-plus Latino residents of Arlington.
A young woman tweeted a photo with the comment: “We all know the real reason for this.” It was retweeted 14,000 times.
“That’s the state we’re in now,” Castillo said, since Texas passed a new law allowing police to ask civil immigration status.
“The concern is that we are all going to be targeted by police,” Castillo said.
“There’s a lot of fear and anxiety.”
An Arlington police spokesman said the Aug. 1 checkpoint on westbound Bardin Road was part of a routine effort to prevent wrecks on Bardin, nearby South Cooper Street and Matlock Road.
“This was not involved with immigration laws in any way,” police Lt. Christopher Cook said.
Checkpoints have strict rules, he said: “We don’t inquire about immigration. If you don’t have a license, we issue a citation and you’re free to leave.”
But those rules aren’t on the stark black-and-white signs warning of a “drivers license check.” On a divided boulevard where motorists couldn’t U-turn, police wrote 36 citations in 90 minutes, Cook said.
Most of the tickets — 24 — were for not having car insurance, Cook said. Police towed two cars because the drivers were repeat violators and also arrested two persons wanted for unpaid tickets.
Cook replied to fearful social media posts: “We only check to ensure drivers have a Driver’s License & Insurance. We don’t check immigration status. These operations are authorized by law.”
Some Dallas-Fort Worth cities, including neighboring Grand Prairie, no longer set up checkpoints. Arlington has been using them regularly for at least 12 years, lately under a 2011 court decision that upheld checkpoints but solely to check licenses and insurance at a crash-prone location.
“We have never received this much feedback,” Cook said.
That might be because Arlington police haven’t spelled out what drivers should or shouldn’t expect now at a traffic stop.
To avoid racial profiling beginning Sept. 1, police will have to ask a variety of drivers their immigration status. Fort Worth police have said they will simply check warrants as always and will hold anyone wanted for a federal immigration violation.
“Arlington police are widely praised as kind and courteous,” Castillo said.
“If somebody has an attitude, police will have an attitude too. The best advice is, don’t give police a reason to stop you.”
And carry your papers in case they do.