A crime of color?
How do you spot an illegal Mexican alien?
Is his brown skin a different shade than that of a Mexican citizen traveling in his country with the proper visa in his pocket? Or perhaps it's not the same color it's not the same color as that of an American-born citizen of Hispanic ancestry?
Granted, if the fellow is splashing through the Tia Juana sloughs, headed north with shoes in hand, it's a safe bet he doesn't have his documents in order. The Border patrol halts bands of such fence climbers night after night.
BUT THE National City police department has no such give-away clues when it comes to stopping and interrogating brown-skinned persons traveling city streets.
Herman Baca, a Chicano activist who has been rather quiet on the local scene in recent years, has blasted the National City police for harassing Hispanic pedestrians and enforcing federal immigration laws.
As Baca reminded the City Council, a U.S. Department of Justice ruling stated that "state and local police forces are to observe the following guidelines: Do not stop, question, detain, arrest or place an immigration hold on any persons not suspected of a crime, solely on the grounds that they may be deportable aliens."
POLICE CHIEF Terry Hart has denied that his department harasses Hispanics, but admits it routinely hauls in illegals and holds them for the Border Patrol.
"If, in the normal course of an investigation," said Hart, "it becomes known that a contacted person is an illegal alien we are not obligated to turn him loose."
The conflict comes in that "normal course of an investigation." Baca insists National City police are going out of their way to halt Hispanics just because of their brown skins, with no indication that they've committed a crime.
One lieutenant's response to a specific case doesn't dispel that belief. Baca has referred to a particular incident in which a motorcycle officer detained two pedestrians who were handcuffed and taken to the police department before being turned over to Border Patrol.
The officer who detained the men was acting on "instincts," a lieutenant was quoted as saying. It's just such "instincts" that have gotten police departments in trouble in the past.
Instincts aren't enough grounds for detaining someone. That was established back in the '60s when police had a nasty habit of halting all long-haireds, who looked suspicious just because of their unshorn locks.
PERHAPS the National City department is clean as a whistle in this area. Perhaps officers have only taken to the station those illegals who were stopped for legitimate reasons - reasons other than their brown skin. After all, Herman Baca has been known to exaggerate problems in the past.
But if Baca is correct this time, it behooves the National City police department to clean up its act.
In a city where the population is 39% Hispanic, a brown skin can't be looked upon as a suspicious circumstance.