The first memory I have of living in the U.S. was my uncle telling me and my parents, “we must never talk to the police.”
“José Arnulfo, if you talk to the police, they will deport your parents and you’ll never see them again. You are here illegally*. They will not protect you, and they will deport your mom and dad.”
[*Although the word “illegal” has been commonly used to describe people with a particular immigration status, no human being is illegal. No one should refer to someone who is Undocumented as illegal.]
Throughout my childhood, I saw how my parents’ behavior changed when a police car drove next to us or an officer walked by us. The word “police” was scary. The word “police” meant being separated from your family. It only got confusing when my teachers told me to call 911 if I was in danger—that the police would come and save me.
Years later, my father walked out on my family and the first apartment my mom was able to get after a year of experiencing homelessness was in a Black neighborhood called Evanston in Cincinnati, OH. My neighborhood was over-policed. I have dozens of stories of police cars flashing their headlights at our apartment windows and my neighbor’s home, kicking the door down, yelling at me and my friends to go home, and pointing guns at us anytime anyone didn’t do what they told us. I realized one thing that my Black friends and I had in common was the association that the police were not here to protect or service us.
When I began organizing, I spent a great deal of time sharing the stories of immigrants in deportation proceedings. Most—if not all—detainees were picked up due to a traffic violation of a broken tail light or an expired tag, but the most common one was “driving while Brown*.” This work didn’t help my experience with the police. I once witnessed a police officer pull over a Brown man outside my uncle’s house. By the time the police officer got to the man’s rear door, he already had his handcuffs out of his belt. He asked the driver something—possibly for his license. After the driver answered, the police officer opened his door and arrested him. My uncle knew him. He was deported to Guatemala and was separated from his wife and kids.
[*”Driving while Brown” takes place when law enforcement officers target certain individuals who look Mexican or Latinx for the purpose of arrests, detentions, traffic stops, interrogations, and searches that are not based on any evidence of criminal activity. Today, this practice is used when police or immigration officers illegally pull over individuals who look Mexican in order to determine if they are legally in the U.S.]
I don’t hate police officers. My mom and I have worked with them in improving the relationship between my undocumented community and the Cincinnati Police Department. One officer, Richard, became a part of our undocumented community. He was invited to birthday parties, church parties, and even goes down to Guatemala every year. He even has a tattoo of a quetzal bird on his arm. He’s always invited to the carne asada Latinx cookout.
The positive experiences I’ve had with Richard have been outweighed by the number of times I’ve been pulled over for no reason, other than the hope I was driving without a license, the times a police officer pointed a gun at me and my friends as we played on the streets, the number of times a police officer called me illegal (*see above), and the number of times a police officer went through my things hoping to find drugs. I’ve only called a police officer once my entire life, which was only because a white man told me to dial 911.
I’m baffled that it took nearly a decade for the U.S. to unite in a national outcry in support of Black Lives Matter and the re-thinking of policing. I’m dumbfounded that saying Black Lives Matter is a debate. As I age, I’ve come to find that Black and Brown people were never intended to be free. We were just given the illusion of freedom. An evaluation of our current system rooted in white supremacy is long overdue. My Black siblings have gone through enough. My Brown siblings have gone through enough.
Rest In Power,
Emmett Till – Fred Hampton – Clifford Glover – Claude Reese – Randolph Evans – Tomasa Africa – Deleisha Africa – Little Phil Africa – Tree Africa – Netta Africa – Yvonne Smallwood – Amadou Diallo – Sean Bell – Tarika Wilson – Oscar Grant – Anthony Lamar Smith – Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley-Jones – Trayvon Martin – Jordan Davis-Jonathan Ferrell – Renisha McBride – Dontre Hamilton – Eric Garner – John Crawford III – Michael Brown – Ezell Ford-August – Dante Parker – Michelle Cusseaux – Laquan McDonald – Tanisha Anderson – Akai Gurley – Tamir Rice – Rumain Brisbon – Jerame Reid – Matthew Ajibade – Frank Smart – Natasha McKenna – Tony Robinson – Anthony Hill – Mya Hall – Phillip White – Eric Harris-Walter Scott – Freddie Carlos Gray Jr. – William Chapman II – Alexia Christian – Brendon Glenn – Rev. Clementa Pinckney – Cynthia Hurd – Susan Jackson – Ethel Lance – Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor – Tywanza Sanders – Rev. Daniel Simmons – Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton – Myra Thompson – Victor Manuel Larosa – Jonathan Sanders – George Mann – Salvado Ellswood – Sandra Bland – Albert Joseph Davis – Darrius Stewart – Billy Ray Davis – Samuel Dubose – Michael Sabbie – Bryan Keith Day – Troy Robinson – Christian Taylor – Asshams Pharoah Manley – Felix Kumi – Tyree Crawford – India Kager – Lavante Biggs – Keith Harrison McLeod – Junior Prosper – Paterson Brown – Corey Jones – Lamontez Jones – Dominic Hutchinson – Anthony Ashford – Benni Lee Tignor – Alonzo Smith – Michael Lee Marshall – Jamar Clark – Richard Perkins – Nathaniel Harris Pickett – Miguel Espinal – Michael Noel – Kevin Matthews – Bettie Jones – Quintonio Legrier- Keith Childress Jr. – Janet Wilson – Antronie Scott – Wendell Celestine – Randy Nelson – David Joseph – Calin Roquemore – Dyzhawn Perkins – Christopher Davis – Kionte Spencer – Marco Loud – Peter Gaines – Darius Robinson – Kevin Hicks – Mary Truxillo – Demarcus Semer – Willie Tillman – Terrill Thomas – Alton Sterling – Philando Castile – Joseph Mann – Paul O’Neal – Sylville Smith – Terence Crutcher – Keith Scott – Alteria Woods – Jordan Edwards – Aaron Bailey – Ronell Foster – Stephon Clark – Antwon Rose II – Botham Jean – Pamela Turner – Dominique Clayton – Atatiana Jefferson – Christopher Whitfield – Christopher McCorvey – Eric Reason – Michael Lorenzo Dean – Ahmaud Arbery – Breonna Taylor – George Floyd – Desmond Franklin – Tony McDade – David McAtee – James Scurlock – Rayshard Brooks – those who are still unnamed who have died in the United States due to police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy.
José Arnulfo Cabrera is the director of education and advocacy for migration for the Ignatian Solidarity Network. He is a 2018 graduate of Xavier University, a DACA recipient, and an immigration activist. He previously worked with the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he provided training on lobbying, organizing, and immigration policy, as well as shared his own immigration story, and as a government relations associate with NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice in Washington, D.C.