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First Amendment Foibles: Can the Dallas PD read English?

After Ernestina Mondragon, a lovely Spanish speaking abuela stopped by rookie Officer Gary Bromley after taking a U turn, went to court to fight a citation issued for not speaking English, it was found that Dallas’ finest have issued 38 citations for the same non-existent law in the last three years. Police Chief David Kunkle played nice and apologized for the officers’ idiocy (something that New York City’s most beloved racist Raymond Kelly would have had trouble doing I’m sure), saying that some of the confusion might have stemmed from an ordinance that taxi drivers must be able to communicate to their customers in English -- a very generous excuse in my opinion.

The comments posted after news stories like this break are like that unknown species of bug you find in your basement when it’s humid out -- disgusting and ugly but fascinating. Here are two of my favorites from RawStory:

 “If you live in a Country that speaks English, Then you should also speak that language. I applaud the officer. I would never go to a foreign country to live an NOT LEARN their countries language. They are not required nor should they be, to learn mine. Good job Texas!!!” (I especially like the capitalization of “country” -- very patriotic!)

“Really, sometimes, when we're reminded of the burden of illegal immigrants on our benefit system....it must be more than irritating to local officers to...deal with the obviously illegal (a felony offense) with no more than a citation.” (By the way, what makes Ernestina “obviously illegal”? And immigration is a civil matter, not criminal, hence, no felony. Apparently, this commentator, like Officer Bromley, likes to invent the law.)

As someone who grew up in a multilingual and multiethnic community in New York City, I find English-only and other xenophobic, nativist inventions to be very bizarre. When you throw poorly trained rookie cops who make up laws (and carry guns), the policing of people of color in a border state and First Amendment violations in the mix, it’s combustible. This whole business reminds me of Hazleton’s -- a quaint little town in middle Pennsylvania -- English-only ordinance. Thankfully, it was thrown out on its first day in court. It’s important to note that even non-citizens enjoy most Constitutional protections in the U.S. -- like the right to speak any language you want.

Speaking of language, remember that tiny little island called Puerto Rico? Over there, U.S. citizens (who can’t vote for the president or voting Congressional reps) speak Spanish. And if you want to get pre-Columbian, every acre of the U.S. belonged to Native Americans; only in recent centuries was the Mexican border pushed to where it is today, thanks to massacre, violence and political and economic manipulation at the hands of the U.S. In fact, in 1819, almost the whole western half of the U.S. belonged to Mexico. In the existing assimilation frame, a perspective of American imperialism and colonization may be unpopular -- but it’s still, and always will be, relevant to the conversation.

To close on the First Amendment stuff: I found one of the clearest constitutional arguments in reaction to this Bromley fiasco (ironically) on a military forum -- and argument that might even win the ears of Conservative NRA members or dare I say...the Minutemen? “[B]eing frustrated doesn't give [an officer] the right to make up his or her own laws. If [an officer] was ‘frustrated’ because too many people in your area were committing crimes with guns - would that give him the right to arrest you for possessing a firearm that was legally registered?” I say hee-haw to that.

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Carlos in DC (not verified) on Mon, 10/26/2009 - 15:22

Speaking English gives you certain advantages in the U.S. but some immigrants can't learn that language too easily, especially older people like Ernestina Mondragon. If the law enforcement of a city is applying fake laws to discriminate civilians for their origin and cultural heritage, someone should be fired and others should be properly trained. This is cruel and disgustingly unfair.

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