Last week we posted our story about Half Moon Bay City Councilman Joaquin Jimenez’s May 23 encounter with San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies. I knew it would cause a ruckus. That’s because your opinion of what went down likely depends on your perspective. And your perspective is influenced — though not determined — by your race.
For those who haven’t seen the story, the facts go something like this: Jimenez, who was leaving a local ranch and, by his own admission, a bit disheveled, rode his bicycle north on Main Street during the annual Holy Ghost Festival. As he passed the excitement at the I.D.E.S. Hall, he took his hands off the handlebars to take a cellphone video of the proceedings. He continued north on Main Street, unaware that a Sheriff’s deputy was following him until he heard a blast from the siren. He says he was admonished, though not cited, for failing to stop at a stop sign. Feeling, as he put it, “this deputy profiled me as dirty Mexican,” he went back to the I.D.E.S. Hall to speak with a Sheriff’s sergeant.
Now, to fully understand Jimenez’s position, it helps to understand some history. I first met Jimenez in 2015, when he told us that he, his father and his son were photographed and briefly detained by Sheriff’s deputies during the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. The Sheriff’s Office told them that the Jimenezes earned special attention from the Crime Suppression Unit because they wore T-shirts memorializing a family friend whom authorities say also happened to be a gang member. Over the course of the ensuing years, Jimenez (like the rest of us) has thought a lot about the intersection of race and policing.
As a result, he has been thinking about policing reform in the city he represents. He is one of two City Council members who have put their names to a rather extraordinary document they hope to present to the full council this week. (The meeting occurred after Review print deadlines on Tuesday.) The document, titled “The Jimenez-Rarback Report on Policing and Public Safety in Half Moon Bay,” posits a new paradigm in which armed response to every emergency call in the city is replaced with an array of choices, from deployment of mental health counselors to a beach safety unit to armed deputies.
It is somewhat ironic, then, that he was stopped by an armed deputy for riding his bicycle through a stop sign.
The proposal outlined in the report deserves a full hearing and vigorous debate in the community. This column isn’t that. This is merely meant to point out that your perspective on the Jimenez traffic stop is likely colored by the color of your skin and how that has affected your life. If you think that we live in a color-blind society and that we are all treated equally — whether we are white and wearing Spandex shorts atop a $5,000 racing bike or are “a dirty Mexican” on a lesser means of conveyance — you are living in a world I don’t recognize. It is simply not true. The evidence is overwhelming, from the Stanford Open Policing Project, which considered more than 39 million traffic stops in California and “found significant racial disparities in policing,” to a Los Angeles Times analysis of data that found Black and Latino people are more likely to be searched following a stop but less likely to have contraband than white people.
All you have to do to see the differing ways we react to these things is to follow the Half Moon Bay Review on Facebook. The comments to our story there are telling. Overwhelmingly, defenders of the Sheriff’s Office appear to be white; those who think Jimenez was targeted appear to be primarily people of color for whom such discrimination is commonplace.
Sadly, none of this is new. One thing has changed, though. Increasingly, people like Jimenez are seeking public office and finding themselves in a position to effect change. Time will tell whether his constituents are ready for it.
— Clay Lambert