Welcome to Palo Alto – Now empty out your pockets!

Palo Alto Welcome SignFor the millions of visitors who visit Palo Alto annually, that greeting, “Welcome to Palo Alto” represents a sign of friendship.

However, for those who live just a stone’s throw away, in East Palo Alto, it’s more like an International Border crossing with unspoken conditions of travel appearing to be specially designed for the vast majority of African Americans and Latino Americans who live in East Palo Alto.

Fear of being pulled over

The welcoming sign, for many represents’ a sign of fear as one East Palo Alto business owner, Elwyn Rainer of Rainers Service Station put it; “The majority of Hispanics and African Americans are afraid to travel over to Palo Alto in fear of being pulled over and searched for no reasons”.

“Research has verified that people of color are more often stopped than whites” as reported in one study by the Office of Justice Programs. In fact, Mr. Rainer describes himself as the “Poster Child” of what he perceives as racially motivated vehicle stops by the Menlo Park and Palo Alto police departments based solely upon the color of his skin.

In one of Mr. Rainer’s many vehicle stops the officer did state the reason why he was pulled over. In one stop, it was because as he put it, “your bumper went over the white pedestrian crossing line”.

“It doesn’t matter what I’m being pulled over for I’m always asked; “Are you on probation, recently released from jail all asked all in one breathe” as he put it.

Questioning intensifies

That’s when the line of questioning intensifies; “Do you mind if we search your vehicle”? He said, “It makes you afraid so I always consent out of fear”. Mr. Rainer admittedly said that he does have a “colorful past” and did not disclose what the past was. None the less he no longer travels over to Palo Alto.

Many of the perceived unspoken travel requirements necessary before entering Palo Alto by East Palo Alto citizens include, functioning taillights, current registration, license, both plates, insurance, no strong odors and having the right tattoos of all things.

Recent border crossing from East Palo Alto

That was the experience of one recent border crossing detainment by the Palo Alto police department involving two East Palo Alto Latino citizens while traveling on University Ave.

She relates, “They had stopped us because the car didn’t have the front license plate; he first explained why he had pulled us over but then right after he asked my boyfriend if he has ever been in trouble before.

He asked how old were we and took down my information, within seconds he asked my boyfriend to step out the car and questioned him about his tattoos on both arms (his last name).

After minutes of having him by the police car, the cop asked me to get out the car and asked me to empty out my pocket’s and also he searched my boyfriend and the car.

He had said it smelled like the illegal substance Marijuana, when he had searched the car he didn’t find anything. After he was done he kept questioning both of us about where did we live and what we’re we doing in Palo Alto”.

Just being stopped by the police under any circumstance can be nerve racking in itself. However, we believe the nature or line questions asked in these two cases in our opinion appears to be discriminatory and biased in nature with the intent of targeting minorities and or the disenfranchised.

Attempted explanation

Not so! And in explaining the vehicle stop which occurred recently on University Ave, Palo Alto police Lieutenant now Captain Zachary Perron states; “every vehicle stop is different. There are many reasons why an officer might request an occupant to get out of a vehicle during a detention; in fact, case law allows officers to do it on any stop.

It would be irresponsible for me to speculate about why any officer would ask occupants to step out of a vehicle on any particular stop, since each stop is different.”

However, “building better community relations is still one of the primary concerns of law enforcement throughout the country. That is why every action by a law enforcement officer has a bearing on the relationship of the agency with the community. Since most citizens come into contact with law enforcement officers at traffic stops, this becomes a critical element for law enforcement agencies in their overall public relations effort.

“Traffic enforcement offers agencies a way to build bridges to the community, one traffic stop at a time”. As cited by the International Association of Chiefs of Police

Disturbing questions remain

Were disappointed but not surprised that Lieutenant Zachary Perron did not address the all important questions of; “have you ever been arrested or are you on probation” as the first questions asked in the two East Palo Alto vehicle stop examples.

We beleive the average citizen no matter what their ethnicity, would find these questions to be derogatory, inflammatory, offensive and discriminatory and in no way designed to build trust especially within minority communities.

We left a voice mail message with East Palo Alto Police Information Officer Veronica Barries seeking her comments. She has yet to return our call. Lastly, we strongly feel as suggested by the International Association of Chiefs of Police that “The first words spoken by the officer may very well determine the tone of the encounter and even the eventual outcome” in building better community relationships especially among minorities.

Also see: Palo Alto Police Department’s Response to Concerns Regarding Bias-Based Policing

Profiling Atherton http://kentbrew.github.io/profiling-atherton/

Palo Alto police official response to third party complaint

City of Houston v. Hill – 482 U.S. 451 (1987)

PA racial profiling goes unchecked – Citizens’ encouraged too report police wrongdoing

Very little progress it seems has taken place since 2008 with the resignation of former Palo Alto police chief Lynne Johnson concerning her controversial orders to stop all African Americans wearing a “Doo-rag” during a series of robberies having taken place in Palo Alto involving an African American.

We believe an alleged racial profiling vehicle stop occurred in Palo Alto on University Ave and requested to review the actual Mobile Audio Video recording (MAV) which recorded the stop to confirm our uncertainties under a California Public Records Act as a third party complaint. That request was denied in complete defiance of the law.

CPRA – Section 6255. “The agency shall justify withholding any record by demonstrating that the record in question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter or that on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not making the record public clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.”

Listen closely to Palo Alto Police Chief Dennis Burns commitment to the community on open government and transparency concerning the ability to review the actual vehicle stop recording (MAV) to eliminate even the slightest perception of unconstitutional motivated racial profiling by the Palo Alto Police Department.

As citizens, what should we do if we encounter or witness police engaged in wrongful racial profiling? It’s all about “citizen participation”. “It’s incumbent upon you, it is imperative; it is your responsibility to let the authorities know”. “Take responsibility”! Say’s Harold Boyd who is a former member of the Police Chief’s Community Advisory Group. And we have…….

Up-date: At a recent city council meeting I approached city attorney Molly Stomp to advise her that the California Public Records Act mandates a legal explanation. “Do you mean you received no response”?

Yes, we received a response but it was a one line code section [“MAV is exempt from the CPRA under Government Code 6254(k)-Penal Code Section 1054.5.”] of the CPRA without any legal “justification”.

“Send it to me again but I’m not going to spend a lot of time providing a “legal summary”. We got nothing to begin with!!

All this from a seemly innocuous benign front license plate traffic stop. We believe there’s more to this story and further believe the city of Palo Alto and its Police Department, is attempting to mislead the public’s trust by not revealing the MAV recording which would demonstrate that no such selective racial profiling had taken place.

President Obama’s Motorcade Route Changes to San Jose

As reported in the Palo Alto Daily Post today “a $35,000-a-person fundraiser this morning at the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto scheduled for 8:30 this morning was moved without explanation to San Jose.”

Dispatch? Yea...Did you get the plate number....Over...

We believe the Secret Service concluded that based on the Palo Alto Police Department’s disproportional history of vehicle stops of African Americans and Latinos for non-functioning taillights and license plate lights, was in fact, the real reasons for the move.

Palo Alto Police Department’s Response to Concerns Regarding Bias Based Policing

Racial profiling raises its ugly head once again for the PAPD

It begins early with the PAPD

The story which follows was original published back in September of last year and since then not much has changed following Dennis Burns appointment as our new police chief in Palo Alto.

It would seem the pervasive sickness and psychosis of racial profiling among the rank and file of the PAPD, it’s police chief Dennis Burns and city council leadership continues to linger unabated.

What prompted this latest story was my encounter with a young African-American whom I met on the street by chance.

I’ve been working on a number of racial profiling stories since the untimely departure of former police chief Lynne Johnson who resigned in disgrace after ordering her officers to stop ALL African-Americans wearing a “Do-Rag”.

In this most recent case, I asked this young man the litmus paper test on weather or not things have changed since Lynne Johnson’s fall from grace.  I was startled by his candor and forth-rightfulness.

This man recently moved to Palo Alto and in the short time he has lived here [five months] he’s been stopped five times by the PAPD.

In each and every case, they have asked for his driver’s license registration and proof of insurance.  BTW, these questions are not unique of African-Americans or for that matter with any other race.

But, what followed were questions unique it seems, questions which appear to be only presented to the African-American and Latino population which occur at an alarmingly rate disproportionally nationally.

1. Are you on probation?

2. Have you ever been arrested?


PAPD Luis Parham in action on the African-American community

On one stop he related that he was the passenger in a car being driven by a white female. In this stop, the officer came around to the passenger side of the window and asked these very same questions.  This left me speechless.

My god, “Living In Palo Alto While Black” has become status-quo….What is even more troubling is the fact that this man works as the  director of youth services for a well known national organization San Francisco.

Prior to Dennis Burns unanimous promotion to Palo Alto Police Chief, Mr. Burns was second in command and right hand-man to then acting police chief Lynne Johnson.

Surprisingly, this same person remained silent throughout the tumultuous scandal which ultimately lead to Lynne Johnson’s disgraceful resignation.

We beleive, chief Dennis Burns continues to promote, foster, sanction and encourages his officers to engage in unconstitutional racial profiling questions with the intent of terrorizing the African-American and Latino Palo Alto citizens and outlining communities.

Like his predecessor Lynne Johnson, chief Dennis Burns must resign.  See related stories below:

Police Chief Lynne Johnson Resigns Part One

Police Chief Lynne Johnson Resigns Part Two

Living In Palo Alto While Black September 12, 2010

Black Like Me

Racism is nothing new even to me as a Latino.   I do recall on one occasion being called a “Wet Back” an inference to all Mexican Americans, and all Non-Whites having crossed the Rio Grande river to enter the land of the brave and home of the not so free.

Racism runs deep in America and one knows this greater than the native American Indians.   I recall a very close friend  Selo (Sylvester) Black Crow.

His great, great grandfather took part in many of the peace treaties between the Oglala Lakota Sioux Nation and Washington later to be broken time and time again.

He was in fact and still is despite his passing to greater peaceful pastures where the true White Buffalo roam, the legendary Chieftain of the Pine Ridge Indian reservation.

His stories were endless including the brutality meted out by the police.

As he related, he was simply made the target of their personal hatred of Native American Indians and from my interviews with many African Americans who are Living In Palo Alto While Black that seems to be the case as well.

In fact, the beating he received from the police was so severe he suffered hearing loss.  This was my first hand account on a personal level concerning police brutality and it would not be the last.

Like most all of us, everyone seems to think in terms of Africa Americans being the only ones who have suffered racism.  This is simply not true.   It’s pandemic very perverse and unfortunately, impacts all races and ethnicity.

If we take a closer look at the demographics here in Palo Alto, by and large, the dominant race appears to be white.

And if we look even closer at the arrest records occurring in Palo Alto we find that its disproportionally black’s and Latino’s stopped and arrested causing much friction and heated debates in some circles. (see IPA audit reports)

Foot note: PAPD has stated tail light stops are an effective tool in catching known or unknown felons. (IPO officer Dan Ryan)

This debate reached critical mass when former Police Chief Lynne Johnson resigned in disgrace for ordering officers to stop all black males with a doo-rag in response to a rash of robberies alleged to have been committed by a black male.

It later turned out to be the case.  But for that matter, it could have been any race.

Current Police Chief Dennis Burns continues to repair the damage done by his predecessor holding secret behind closed door meetings with a select group of handpicked citizens from the community.

The general public is disallowed and news reporters are prevented from attending – We call this – police democracy in action.  I would say, transparency and open government is non existent in Palo Alto.

Racial profiling by the PAPD is their dirty little secret best kept under wraps by Chief Burns and far from, far from the public’s eye.

Of all the African Americans I have interview in Palo Alto thus far, all have related a disturbing sorted tale of racism by the hands of the PAPD.

Watch out and *inspect your tail lights before entering Palo Alto from East Palo Alto.  Its a sure way to get stopped especially if your driving while “Black” let alone Living In Palo Alto While Black.

*From the archives – East Palo Alto Residents Ask: “Am I a Suspect?”


“A pattern of racial traffic stops in Palo Alto is statistically clear. 

At a *Rally Against Racial Profiling* on November 9 Goro Mitchell, East Palo Alto activist and Planning Commission member, said that 56 percent of all traffic stops for “vehicular failure”, such as tail or brake lights not working, are for cars driven by African Americans or Latinos.

Two young men, one Latino and one African American, have created a T-shirt to draw attention to this injustice.”

The story “Black Like Me” the book featured, is about a white man who decides to alter his skin color chemically and live the life as a black male.

There is something to be said about living, understanding and walking in the same shoes as a black person through the segregated south as a white man.  But, in reality it could be anywhere USA or for that matter the world.

It just so happens living in Palo Alto while black, is a little dirty secret Chief Dennis Burns and city council would much rather not have you be aware of.  This compelling story – “Black Like Me” is sure to become an all time American classic.

So the question is.  Will racism ever be eliminated from the hearts and minds of humanity?  Well,  I believe it’s happening right here in our community now!!  And it’s no secret…..