By Alyssa Solis
On October 15th and 16th, Pitzer students gathered alongside community members in Pomona and Ontario to participate in two actions to raise awareness about controversial policies implemented by the Pomona and Ontario Police Departments. The issue in question concerns the real purpose of alcohol checkpoints across the cities, and if these checkpoints intentionally and disproportionately affect undocumented citizens.
Pitzer student involvement in this issue goes back several years. Troy Kokkinis, a graduate from 2009 and a native of the area, retells the story of how his family members’ experiences with the checkpoints differed depending on their race ”My dad is Greek, and even when he doesn’t have his license on him he is often able to explain his way out of it. My mother, who is Mexican, had a very difficult time passing through one time because she did not have her card on her. They held her for about an hour before eventually letting her pass.”
In the most recent action, Pitzer students and community members marched to the City Hall of both of the respective towns, and spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to voice dissent with the treatment of unlicensed, and often undocumented, drivers. Activists allege that officers have specifically violated A.B 353, a bill passed last year that stipulates that if a person’s only crime is driving without a license that they have until the time the checkpoint ends to call a licensed friend or relative to drive them home. During the public comment period, locals testified that officers instead chose to tow the vehicles on the spot leaving residents without a car and facing up to $1,500 fines to retrieve their vehicles.
If residents are unable to pay the fines, the car is sold at auction and the proceeds benefit the city and the towing company. These actions leave community members without the transport necessary to get to and from work, and to take their children to school.
Hannah Weiss, a Pitzer student involved the actions, says that she ”felt like the goal of the public action was to bring attention to the city mayors that the police of Ontario were not following the law. I believe that our large turnout of people and the strong voices that spoke were noticed. However, I do not think that they were heard.”
Community members have responded to these events by locating themselves strategically near the checkpoints with signs in English and Spanish, warning drivers of the checkpoints ahead.
One such checkpoint occurred on Friday October 26th, where a turnout of Pitzer students and community members were able to warn a substantial number of drivers in time to avoid the checkpoints. Weiss describes these actions as ”play[ing] a huge role in making an instant difference, where marches down Euclid attempt to play a role in making a change for good.”
While community members have expressed gratitude at the presence of Pitzer students at these actions, more involvement by students and community members could further pressure Ontario and Pomona police to follow AB 353. As Maxfield Estela, a Pitzer graduate working closely on these issues, wrote in a particularly rousing student-talk aimed at recruiting a presence at these actions: ”Actions speak louder than words! Out with the armchair activists and all power to the people!” Pitzer students are interested in being added to the text group that announces police checkpoints should e-mail a phone number to Pomona Habla at PomonaHabla@gmail.com to be added to their text network and participate in some tangible social responsibility.