One of the most embarrassing and hurtful moments of my childhood happened when one person assumed the worst about me because of the color of my skin.
I was living in Raleigh, N.C., at the time, and had recently begun to enjoy the benefit of being able to go to the mall to hang out with my friends. I was in the seventh grade and one of my best friends was named Jake. We shared a lot of interests, and the only noticeable difference between us was that he was white and about a foot shorter than I was.
Being that we were preteens, our world was pretty much limited to the mall and we would spend a lot of time looking at things we couldn't afford to buy. Preteens also have pretty short attention spans, so if it didn't involve candy or video games, we didn't spend a lot of time there.
For some reason, my friend, Jake, decided to pop into the store that sold vitamins. I knew that the store specialized in vitamins, and at that time in my life, I had no interest in anything with nutritional value. However, like a good friend, I followed my friend into the store. I hadn't spent but a few seconds there before my friend had turned around and started heading to the next store. He probably learned what I already knew about that store's dismal candy offerings.
Before I had a chance to leave and head to the rest of the mall, however, I was grabbed by an employee, who demanded I return whatever I stole. I hadn't had much time in the store to do anything, so I was shocked that this woman was accusing me of stealing something. The woman, middle-aged and white, let my white friend go about his business, but demanded that I empty my pockets in front of the store.
I was only 13, and had a healthy fear of authority figures. Not knowing my constitutional rights, I complied and emptied my pockets before a crowd of curious mall spectators. After I failed to produce anything from my pockets, the person went back to her duties without even an apology. Afterward, I told my parents how humiliated I was and they had a strong talk with the management. Recently, the state of Arizona made it legal for police officers to do the same thing the woman at the vitamin store did to me, but on a much grander scale. With passage of the state's Senate Bill 1070, law enforcement officers have the discretion to detain anyone, whom they suspect of being illegal, whether they are at a shopping mall, driving to work, or doing anything else.
Racial profiling happens more often than it should in America, but the legislation Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer recently signed into law creates an environment that encourages it. In addition to allowing officers to detain individuals based on the suspicion that they are illegal, it would make it a crime for immigrants not to carry immigration documentation on their person. Even worse, it allows residents to sue cities they believe are not adequately enforcing the policy.
Much like I was forced to empty my pockets and produce evidence that proved my innocence, innocent people, who just happen to look like people from less-embraced countries, will be forced to empty their pockets in similar fashion. Furthermore, the law creates potential ramifications for cities and law enforcement agencies who choose to exercise fairer policies.
This law has a great deal of potential to humiliate people. In trying to address immigration issues, Arizona's new law may do more harm than good.
Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.