Monday, June 22, 2009

Speak English Well, or You'll Get a Ticket - Racism in Alabama?

Speak English Well, or You'll Get a Ticket. That's the title of a Jay Reeves article appearing in Saturday's issue of the Atlanta Constitutional Journal. Sad part is, this title isn't trying to be sensationalist, it's being honest.

Trucker Manuel Castillo, a native Spanish speaker, was driving his rig through Alabama when he was pulled over by Alabama State Police for a routine check. Castillo, who speaks English on a third-grade level (like many other Alabamians, I fear), had a routine conversation with the officer about his license and registration, the truck inspection, and so on. According to the article, he didn't forsee any problems (he's been a trucker for 20 years and wasn't speeding), until the officer gave him a $500 ticket for--you guessed it--speaking English poorly.

I encourage you all to read the article on the ACJ's website. There will certainly be more details and information available there. This blog entry is basically my personal outlet for sharing the sheer absurdity of it all.

A $500 ticket for speaking English poorly? In Alabama? Come on, people.

This is sheer racism and discrimination. Even if the Alabama State Police are able to hide behind the federal law which requires anyone with a commercial driver's license to speak English well enough to talk with police, they hopefully won't be able to hide for long. I can understand the necessity of being able to deal with law enforcement. What I can't understand is sheer hatred. Were those native to Alabama able to pass this requirement as well, we'd have no issue. But, according to the ACJ article, Mr Castillo was cited because he had an accent. An accent. In Alabama.

Now, I'm a Southerner. I love the South. My own brother lives in Huntsville. But, come on! The Alabama Department of Education admits to a 16.7% high school drop-out rate. According to the Department's Alabama Reading Initiative presentation, available online, 15% of the State's third-graders (the level at which Mr Castillo speaks English) tested below proficiency on state and national reading exams. When it comes to speaking English well enough to drive a semi, maybe Alabama State Police are pulling over the wrong people. If this is not a hate law, as it seems so much to me to be, could someone tell me how many native Alabamans who speak poor English have also received a $500 fine?


bonnjill said...

I thought the same thing when I read about this this morning. I also find the fine to be really, really excessive. It's about $100 for a speeding ticket. What justifies $500 for not even breaking a traffic law? This is definitely racism - pure and simple.

Terena Bell - In Every Language said...

Also, for those interested in reading more, a couple of folks have also made comments about this entry on In Every Language's Facebook page. While I certainly prefer that you post your comments here, as this is the actual blog, please feel free also to read the comments others have made there, as they are very interesting.