Stopped on San Lucas
During the extended break, I went back home to Mountain View, California. For the past few years, I’ve been an avid walker, and I love taking pictures of cats, homes and landscaping that have curb appeal. I’ve recently also started listening to books as a way of using my walking time more productively. One day, while walking around my neighborhood, I was listening to “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” by Radley Balko. Suddenly, I was stopped by a lady in a gray late model Toyota Camry.
Because I don’t hear very well, I had the volume turned up quite high. Given the content of this book, I was lost in my own world and not paying attention to much around me, other than taking the occasional picture and periodically checking my phone. Due to the amount of tree debris on the sidewalks, I had been walking alternately on the street facing traffic and then on the sidewalk. Therefore, a motorist stopping me and asking if I needed help was disorienting.
Mountain View is a quiet neighborhood located in the heart of Silicon Valley, a reasonably diverse community with many people of color and a good number of Asian Indians. It’s home to some of the world’s biggest companies. My husband and I have lived here for nearly 30 years. For most of my time living there I was working, and rarely walked beyond my own house to venture deeper into the community. But since I started my wellness program, I’ve made more of an effort to know my neighbors, welcome new ones and help forge a more cohesive community.
I was quite surprised when the lady in the Camry asked if I needed help. Still listening to my book, I replied no, that I was just walking, and that I lived here on San Lucas Avenue. At this point, I think I noticed the passenger filming this on her device. The driver said there had been a series of break-ins, which I knew to be untrue, as I monitor activities on both Nextdoor and Facebook, and I have a wide range of contacts in the community who keep me aware of such happenings. I offered to show her my ID, which has my home address on it, and I began to get upset. I could not imagine why I was being recorded. Was I being punked? Was this going to get posted online? Several thoughts ran through my head, but all I was able to blurt out was asking her if it was because I was wearing a coat and a baseball cap. Then, I noticed that while I was wearing a mask, she was not. I was about to approach her car, then thought better of it, stepping back on the sidewalk. I asked again if she wanted to see my ID, also mentioning that my husband and I had lived there since 1994. Apparently, this was the wrong thing to say because she then got defensive and said that she had lived there for 50 years. The situation ended when she sped away, as bizarrely as it began.
I was both shaken and livid. In 2020, I had been stopped in my own neighborhood, on my own street, a mere five or six houses down from where I live, for walking. And, while I was being recorded, I have to say that I was grateful that she didn’t call the police because I do not know what would have happened to me.
This was at high noon on a quiet, suburban residential street in California, but it never should have occurred. I spent the next few minutes asking myself if I wore the wrong outfit (coat, baseball cap, large tote bag). Was I walking strangely? Why did the questions continue after I said that I was walking and that I lived there? Was I looking at my phone too much or not enough? How could someone of my diminutive stature possibly be the mastermind behind or perpetrator of “a series of break-ins?” How could I have orchestrated break-ins without a car? Did I appear too brown? (I found out later that the lady was of Filipino descent.) Was colorism a factor? Why didn’t I start recording too? Why did I offer to show my ID?
This was so weird and un-neighborly. What gave this lady the idea that she could accost me, record me, interrogate me and treat me the way she did? I realized I had been profiled for walking on the street, looking at my phone and then looking at a neighbor’s really nice landscaping. I found out that there had been only one burglary … a few years ago. Nearly everyone was home, and there had been no recent porch pirates. This was decidedly not the welcome back home that I had been looking for. Perhaps they were looking to pick a fight. I still don’t understand how I might have looked threatening or done anything to have caused such suspicion. I even apologized twice, yet the person still sped away with not a word of acknowledgement or apology.
What if someone had called the police? Would my immigration status have been questioned? Would I have been detained? Fortunately, I keep my passport card on my person at most times. I was born in India, I’ve been a naturalized citizen since 1977 and I’ve been married to a U.S.-born citizen since 1994. But, what are my civil and constitutional rights in this kind of situation?
Racial profiling isn’t supposed to happen, but it does. I still do not know this lady’s intentions, nor had I ever met her on one of my walks nor at any of our neighborhood events. Additionally, she is not a member of our Nextdoor and Facebook groups. To this day, I have not directly communicated with her nor her passenger. As for the rest of my trip home, I walked outside of my neighborhood and my city, and I carried all of my identification with me. Needless to say, it was not a restful trip.